On the first point of the second game against Tai Tzu Ying, PV Sindhu countered her opponent’s smashes by driving back the shuttle to the baseline, thereby forcing the world No 2 into making a mistake.
Till that point in the match, Tai Tzu looked in total command as she had raced through the opening game, winning points at will, and at times, toying with Sindhu with her deceptive strokes and flicks from the net.
But there is a general perception in the badminton circle that Tai Tzu can be vulnerable when made to play outside of her comfort zone, where she dictates the rallies, and can be beaten if the opponent can sustain that pressure and find a few winners.
On Friday in Basel, Switzerland, Sindhu not only managed to do that in the next two games but once again proved how she is one of the big tournament players by keeping her composure under pressure to upset the Taipei shuttler 12-21, 23-21, 21-19 in 71 minutes to reach her fifth BWF World Championship semi-final.
The 24-year-old, who has won the silver medal in the previous two editions, has worked hard on her forecourt moments, which many of her opponents have exploited in the past. This helped her counter Tai Tzu’s game plan as the match turned into a battle of physical attrition from the second game onwards.
Sindhu, who went into the match with a far inferior 4-10 head-to-head record against her opponent, not only managed to keep the shuttle in play longer and played harder drives and flat pushes. As the match progressed, she wasn’t holding back her booming smashes and even attacked Tai Tzu’s body, winning at least half a dozen points in the bargain.
The biggest difference between Sindhu and Tai Tzu on the day was that the Indian didn’t give up under pressure while the pressure of expectations weighed down the latter when things became tight. From there, holding one’s nerve took centrestage, far ahead of skills or strokeplay.
The prime example of that change came at 18-17 in the decider, when Tai Tzu made a mistake on her trademark loopy overhead drop which had fetched her quite a few points till then.
In fact, it is one shot that the world No 2 uses with devastating effect against any opponent and rarely makes a mistake while playing it.
It’s not like Tai Tzu gave up without a fight. Chasing her first World Championship medal, the Asian Games gold medallist tried every trick in the book from sudden burst of aggression to playing a couple of trick shots to surprise Sindhu. But to the Indian’s credit, she was more than ready for those, and her never-say-die attitude bailed her out of many a tight situations.
The remaining work was done by her superior physical presence as Sindhu could make herself big enough to counter Tai Tzu’s clearances and hit air borne half smashes on either side of her opponent to find winners.
“I think in the first game, I had given a huge lead and I couldn’t recover,” Sindhu said after her win.
“I was prepared for her deception but my shots were going to mid court. But the second game was anybody’s game and I kept fighting and won the second.
“The third game went same way, she was leading but I had hope. At 18-18, I had to be patient and keep the shuttle inside, there were long rallies and I am happy to win this one.”
Sindhu’s physical edge
Chief coach Pullela Gopichand gave Sindhu credit for turning things around after losing the opening game. “The way Tai played the first game was really remarkable. But the moment Sindhu changed a few things in her game, I think, Tai lost her total command and Sindhu smashes were what surprised her.”
The former All England champion felt that physical nature of Sindhu’s play also allows her to make an impact in such major tournaments as they are played in bigger halls and strength becomes an important factor in winning points.
“Tournaments played in bigger halls will benefit players who are stronger and Sindhu being physical in nature it works to her advantage. That’s why she has been most consistent player in women’s badminton at the highest stage,” he told Scroll.in from Basel.
This would be Sindhu’s fifth semi-final appearance in the World Championship in six attempts and she also has an Olympic, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games silver in the past three years. This, apart from reaching the final of the last two editions of this tournament.
In the semi-final, Sindhu will face China’s Chen Yufei – a player she completely outplayed in the semi-finals of the Indonesia Open Super 1000 last month. It was the tournament where the world No 5 first found her rhythm back after an indifferent start to the year and has gone from strength to strength since then.
The only player she has lost to in the last two tournaments is world No 1 Akane Yamaguchi, who herself possess great physical strength. The Japanese can outlast an opponent on the basis of her speed and strength alone.
With Yamaguchi suffering a surprise early exit and the trickiest opponent in Tai Tzu knocked out, Sindhu would definitely be considered an favourite to be third time lucky in her quest for a gold medal. The trick to achieve that would be to maintain the self belief she showed here and not letting the intensity slip while executing those big booming smashes, irrespective of the match situation.