PV Sindhu reached the semi-final of the All England Open Championships with a come-from-behind win against former world No 1 Akane Yamaguchi in Birmingham on Friday. This will be Sindhu’s second appearance at the semi-final stage of the prestigious Super 1000 event.
Despite wining the first game, Yamaguchi found herself on the losing side by a 21-16, 16-21, 19-21 scoreline in a match that lasted 76 minutes.
Sixth seed Pornpawee Chochuwong awaits Sindhu next in the semi-final. The Thai youngster has had a sensational start to 2021 but the Indian holds a 4-1 head-to-head lead, including a win in their latest match at the BWF World Tour Finals in Bangkok.
In a match that ebbed and flowed both ways, the rallies kept increasing in length and intensity as the night went on. Sindhu recovered from 17-18 down in the decider to hold her nerve and clinch a thriller. The emotions at the end of the win showed how much she was pushed by the Japanese third seed.
It was the 18th meeting on the BWF Tour between Sindhu and Yamaguchi, and the Indian extended her head-to-head record to 11-7. The Japanese star had won the last three matches before Friday but Sindhu finally snapped that streak. The familiar rivals had not met since the World Tour Finals in 2019 before this much-anticipated quarter-final.
It was a close start to the match. After a couple of early errors from the Indian levelled things up 4-4, Sindhu had Yamaguchi on the backfoot for most of a rally but trademark defence by the Japanese gave her the point. And once she took the lead there, Yamaguchi kept her opponent at arm’s length for the rest of the opener to draw first blood.
Sindhu played arguably the point of the night to win a 23-shot rally at 14-18 down to threaten a fightback but that was later followed by a run of three-straight points from 18-16 for Yamaguchi. The Japanese took the lead and was good value for it. Sindhu, however, had started showing signs of improvement after a slow start.
The second game began with a good early run of points from Sindhu, which included a sensational defensive block that turned into a winner. Yamaguchi closed the gap from 4-8 to 6-8 but Sindhu took a five-point lead into the mid-game break for a reversal of scores from the first game. The eventual scoreline too would be reversed too.
In the second half of the second game, there were two 20-plus shot rallies back-to-back that went in Sindhu’s favour. In her physical battles against the top Japanese shuttlers, that is usually a good sign. Just when one thought Sindhu would run away with the second game at 17-10, Yamaguchi threatened to fight back. But a delicious overhead crosscourt smash from Sindhu restablished a six-point lead for her at 19-13. On her second game point, the then-longest rally of the match followed which went the Indian’s way and the game was wrapped up 21-16.
While Sindhu has been active on the tour since the Bangkok leg of 2021, Yamaguchi was playing her first tournament of the year and both players would have had their reasons to tire out in the third game. But it was the decider that produced the highest quality of badminton on the night. There were at least four 30-plus shot rallies in the first half of the decider and each of them pushed both shuttlers to the limits. While Sindhu was the one seemingly running out of steam, with the chair umpire even asking her to hurry up between points, she kept finding a new gear.
From 7-9 down, Sindhu put together a run of 4 straight points and had a lead going into the final change of ends. Yamaguchi, then, ended a run of six straight points for Sindhu, which was followed by a 37-shot rally that saw the fifth-seeded Indian take a 14-10 lead. The Japanese, however, fought back once again to level things up at 15-15.
That was followed by the loudest roar of the night from Sindhu as she re-established a 17-15 lead. The crosscourt smash was working like a treat for Yamaguchi which then helped her take an 18-17 lead.
At the end of a high-quality match, though, it was errors that proved critical. Sindhu netted a forehand when she could have had a match-point but it was Yamaguchi who made two critical errors to close out the match. Sindhu sunk on her knees after clinching the battle before letting out a sigh of relief.
“Whenever I play against her, it is a long match,” Sindhu remarked in her post-match chat.
It indeed was.
Duration of Sindhu vs Yamaguchi matches since 2018:
BATC 2018: 36 mins
All England 2018: 80 mins
Worlds 2018: 55 mins
Asiad 2018 (Team): 44 mins
Asian 2018 (Individual): 70 mins
WTFinals 2018: 52 mins
Indonesia 2019: 51 mins
Japan 2019: 50 mins
WTFinals 2019: 68 mins
All England 2021: 76 mins
You can watch highlights of the match here: