No Indian has ever won the gold medal at the BWF Badminton World Champions and, now, PV Sindhu has earned her third shot at it. The 24-year-old stands one win away from clinching the elusive gold after entering a third successive final with a stunning display of power at the quarter-final and semi-final stages in Basel.
Sindhu, who had claimed successive silver in the last two editions of the prestigious tournament beside two bronze, was a picture of perfection as she outclassed world No 3 and All England Champion Chen Yu Fei of China 21-7 21-14 in a 40-minute semifinal. This was preceded by a superb come-from-behind win against world No 2 Tai Tzu Ying.
And now, her reward for those two performances is a rematch with Nozomi Okuhara at the same stage of the World Championships as in 2017: when the two shuttlers produced an epic 110-minute final in which the Japanese triumphed.
From the archives: When the irresistible Indian met the indomitable Japanese
Having earned a third successive World Championships final spot, Sindhu is far from satisfied, as she takes aim at an elusive gold in the prestigious tournament.
“It is important to keep yourself focused. It is not over yet for me. Yeah, I am happy but not satisfied yet. There is one more match to go and I would want to get the gold,” Sindhu told reporters after her win.
“It is not going to be easy. I have to be focused, patient and give my best in the final.”
Sindhu’s form at the Worlds is, without a doubt, her best so far this year. After a stuttering campaign, the 24-year-old Rio Olympics silver medallist had managed to reach her first final in July when she lost to Akane Yamaguchi in the final of Indonesia Open. And, riding on that form, she has upped her game considerably at the Worlds, as she usually does.
Before we look at Okuhara’s form this year and their head-to-head, here’s how Sindhu has progressed at Basel 2019 so far, after her first-round bye:
The Sindhu-Okuhara rivalry resumes
And now, on Sunday, Sindhu will face her most familiar rival for a shot at the title. Both the players are 24 years old, both are former world No 2s, both are Olympic medal-winners and both have had relatively lean seasons by their high standards. The similarities end there though, with their style of play anything but alike.
For Sindhu’s part, she will be taking on a higher-ranked player for the third straight match at Basel 2019.
Opponent’s rank: 4 (seeded 3)
Form in 2019: Coming in to the tournament, Okuhara had a 29/10 win-loss record this season, compared to Sindhu’s 19/9. It has been a mixed year for the former world champion, much like Sindhu herself, with no major title won yet. Her best results have been finals appearances at Japan Open, Australian Open and Singapore open so far, meaning three silver medals compared to Sindhu’s solitary final appearance at Indonesia Open. As it stands, one of the two finallists are set to clinch their first title of 2019 and it is going to be at the biggest tournament of the year.
History at the World Championships: While Sindhu boasted four medals coming into Basel 2019, Okuhara had just one but it was the one that mattered the most. The 2017 tournament saw her finish on the top of the podium at the expense of the Indian. In 2018, however, Sindhu ended Okuhara’s run in the quarter-finals in Nanjing. She was eliminated in the round of 32 in 2015 in her first appearance at the Worlds. It was in 2012 that Okuhara announced her arrival by clinching the Junior World Championships, by beating her compatriot Akane Yamaguchi.
Form at the 2019 World Championships: Like Sindhu, the Japanese shuttler also had a first round-bye. Okuhara dropped her first game of the tournament in the semi-final in Basel, after having won her first three matches in straight games. She made light work of good players like former world No 2 Sung Ji Hyun and China’s He Bing Jao before 2013 World Champion Intanon stretched her all the way in what was a brutal, sensational semi-final. The Thai shuttler won the first game 21-17, after trailing 12-17, by winning nine straight points while Okuhara herself had won nine straight to bounce back from 8-17.
After the topsy-turvy opener, Okuhara imposed herself on the match in the second and third games, with her physical strength proving decisive against a tiring Intanon. At the end of the 83-minute battle, Okuhara still looked fresh and energetic: a sign that Sindhu will have to guard against letting the game go the distance as the Japanese shuttler should have the edge when it comes to endurance, even though Sindhu stayed on the court for just 40 minutes in her semi-final.
Previous meetings: In what is one of the most prolific rivalries of the current era, PV Sindhu currently leads the head-to-head 8-7.
|Indonesia Open 2019||Nozomi Okuhara||14-21, 7-21||PV Sindhu||July 2019|
|Singapore Open 2019||Nozomi Okuhara||21-7, 21-11||PV Sindhu||April 2019|
|BWF World Tour Finals 2018||Nozomi Okuhara||19-21, 17-21||PV Sindhu||December 2018|
|BWF World Championships 2018||Nozomi Okuhara||17-21, 19-21||PV Sindhu||August 2018|
|Thailand Open 2019||Nozomi Okuhara||21-15, 21-18||PV Sindhu||July 2018|
|All England Open 2018||Nozomi Okuhara||22-20, 18-21, 18-21||PV Sindhu||March 2018|
|Japan Open 2017||Nozomi Okuhara||21-18, 21-8||PV Sindhu||September 2017|
|Korea Open 2017||Nozomi Okuhara||20-22, 21-11,18-21||PV Sindhu||September 2017|
|BWF World Championships 2017||Nozomi Okuhara||21-19, 20-22, 22-20||PV Sindhu||August 2017|
|Singapore Open 2017||Nozomi Okuhara||21-10, 15-21, 20-22||PV Sindhu||April 2017|
|Rio 2016 Olympic Games||Nozomi Okuhara||19-21, 10-21||PV Sindhu||August 2016|
|Badminton Asia Team Championships 2016||Nozomi Okuhara||18-21, 21-12, 21-12||PV Sindhu||February 2016|
|Malaysia Masters 2015||Nozomi Okuhara||19-21, 21-13, 21-8||PV Sindhu||January 2015|
|Hong Kong Open 2014||Nozomi Okuhara||21-17, 13-21, 21-11||PV Sindhu||November 2014|
|Badminton Asia Youth Under 19 Championships 2012||Nozomi Okuhara||21-18, 17-21, 20-22||PV Sindhu||July 2012|
The two have been neck and neck ever since their meeting in Glasgow. In the nine matches played since then, Sindhu has a 5-4 advantage (including that final). Interestingly, the first four meetings between the two players, much before their meeting in Glasgow, were all three-game affairs. But in the last eight meetings, only two have gone the distance: Sindhu’s win in Korea soon after the 2017 Worlds and another thriller at All England in 2018, again won by Sindhu. Other than those two occasions, it has been straight-games, indicating that both players have felt the need to dominate the other as part of their gameplan, instead of engaging in a battle of endurance.
Expected time: Scheduled to be the second match of the finals session which begins with women’s doubles final at 3.30 pm IST.
(With BWF and PTI inputs)