In the aftermath of the BWF World Championships final in 2019, when she obliterated the competition in front of her to win a historic gold medal, PV Sindhu was asked a strange question. She was asked if her path to becoming world champion was “made easy” because Carolina Marin was not in the fray (due to an injury from which she would make an incredible comeback) and the No 1 seed Akane Yamaguchi was knocked out earlier.
The question came after Sindhu defeated arguably the best player of this era, Tai Tzu Ying, in the quarter-final; after dismantling the form player of 2019, Chen Yufei, in the semi-final; after blowing away former world champion Nozomi Okuhara with a believe-it-or-not scoreline in the final. It was another reminder that sometimes fans or followers of a sport simply can’t get enough from an event without an element of drama attached to it.
But as fate would have it, Sindhu faced Marin at the very venue in Basel 18 months later. The occasion was not remotely as important as a World Championship final but it was interesting to see where the two stood at the start of an Olympic year. The answer was clear and loud: Marin is in a plane that is altogether different from most others in the field, let alone Sindhu.
The Spaniard dished out a performance against Sindhu not much different than the one Sindhu dished out against Okuhara in 2019.
“The improvement from the earlier tournaments in 2021 in Bangkok was evident in Basel,” Trupti Murgunde, former national champion, told Scroll.in. “She defeated players she had recently lost to, so it was a good run to give her self-confidence.”
On the one hand, Sindhu ended her wait for an appearance in a BWF event final since Basel 2019 and did so without dropping a game all week. But did the margin and manner of defeat against Marin deflate Sindhu’s plans ahead of an event like All England and, especially so, in an Olympic year?
“I would rather tell her that she now knows where she stands. It should be taken in a positive way to understand how much she needs to work on her fitness, the areas she needs to work on. It’s an alert-check I would say so that she trains accordingly to up her level. It has come at the point of a season where she can analyse and better herself. If this defeat had come closer to the Olympics, there would have been no time to improve,” Murgunde, who has played with and against Sindhu, added.
Make no mistake, that defeat against Marin in the final would have hurt Sindhu. The feel-good factor in sport takes ages to build but can wither away in minutes. In the minutes before the presentation ceremony, you could even see it on Sindhu’s face.
In their 14 matches on the BWF Tour, no game has been as big a blowout as the second game in Basel. A scoreline of 21-5 is the biggest margin of win for either player in their storied rivalry. Sindhu had won a game 21-7 in their first meeting in 2011 and Marin had won a game 21-9 at the 2015 Hong Kong Open.
That, in essence, sums up how big the challenge for Sindhu now, is to bounce back. Reaching the final of the Swiss Open is not to be scoffed at because she beat players she would be expected to beat, but to compete with the best of the best, it is back to the drawing board for her.
Murgunde further added, “She has got to be mentally prepared to play the tougher opponents at the upcoming big events like All England. She has to get into that big-game rhythm now. Hats off to Marin, the kind of grit she has shown since her injury. She has won it all, but still, she is even hungrier this year. I was amazed at her presence on the court, even that is enough to put opponents off.”
“Nevertheless, I am seeing Sindhu improve day-by-day, with every tournament she is playing in these unique circumstances. I hope she quickly makes a comeback,” the 38-year-old said, adding the Indian shuttler must look at improving her agility which is a critical part of getting strokes right.
It is sometimes easy to forget Sindhu is 25. She has won five medals at the World Championships including a gold and is a silver medallist at the Olympics and Asian Games. At the prestigious All England, her best result is a semi-final appearance.
Sindhu begins her campaign against Soniia Cheah and is expected to face opponents she’d expect to beat in the second round as well, once the draw is confirmed. Then comes a potential blockbuster of a quarter-final against former world No 1 Akane Yamaguchi, but one Sindhu should fancy given the Japanese’s general lack of action this year. With Marin withdrawing from the tournament and Tai Tzu Ying not in the fray, the Indian star has a great chance. The All England Open is a title that Sindhu is yet to win in her medal-filled career, and at the start of a Olympic year, it could give her momentum.
Nothing is to be taken for granted in sport, but when Sindhu faces some of her familiar rivals this week at badminton’s vintage event, Indian badminton fans will be hoping to see a closer contest; to see signs that Sindhu is heading in the right direction; to see that her dream of winning another Olympic medal remains on track.
Corrections and clarifications: Carolina Marin has withdrawn from All England due to an injury as had Indonesia’s Greogoria Mariska Tunjung. The article has been updated to reflect that.