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PV Sindhu needs to play her attacking game to break the Japanese code

PV Sindhu, who lost to Nozumi Okuhara in the final last year, will be eyeing a better show in the Badminton World Championships this year.

other sports Updated: Jul 30, 2018 14:35 IST
Avishek Roy
Avishek Roy
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PV Sindhu,Badminton World Championships,World Championships
PV Sindhu will be looking to clinch the World Championships title after finishing runners-up last year.(AFP)

It was 2012 and London Olympics was merely three weeks away. Saina Nehwal was going through an intense preparation under the watchful gaze of Pullela Gopichand at his Hyderabad academy in Gachibowli. The master coach had one eye fixed on a clutch of Indian youngsters who were competing at the Badminton Asia U-19 Championships.

A certain PV Sindhu had reached the final and was pitted against Japanese Nozomi Okuhara in the title clash. The youngster beat the talented Okuhara 18-21, 21-17, 22-20 in a long drawn marathon to corner glory.

“These two players belong to the next generation, mark my word,” Gopichand had said.

It was indeed the start of a rivalry that rose to iconic heights at the World Championships final last year where Sindhu and Okuhara were engaged in a gladiatorial battle for close to two hours. Sindhu lost that final but defeated the Japanese in Korea to win the title.

A year into that epic contest, Okuhara is ready to defend her title and Sindhu eager to better the colour of her medal when the BWF World Championships begin in Nanjing, China on Monday. It is a stage Sindhu is familiar with and knows what it takes to be a winner. Even before her first Super Series title, Sindhu had two medals (bronze) from the World Championships (2013, 2014). Saina got her first medal at the Worlds only a year later when she lost to Carolina Marin in 2015.

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The women’s circuit may not be dominated by Chinese anymore but the competition among the top 10 is r tough. The likes of Sindhu, Okuhara, Akane Yamaguchi, Tai Tzu Ying, who is the top seed, Sung Ji Hyun, are all capable of claiming the title. There are no clear favourites. Though among them Tai Tzu, the deceptive stroke-maker, has been a cut above the rest and six titles charts her phenomenal phase this year. These top players may have different styles but also have some similarity; they are retrievers with good deceptive strokes.

It is here that Sindhu stands out with her attacking game. With her sharp smashes and an ability to hit the lines, Sindhu needs to play to her strengths and not get drawn into the long rallies which she has frequently engaged, in the past, with the two wily Japanese –Okuhara and Yamaguchi. It is easier said than done, though.

“She needs to play her attacking shots judiciously and vary the pace intelligently,” says national selector and former international Vimal Kumar, who has seen her from close quarters.

Against the Chinese, Sindhu was more comfortable playing her natural game. The Indian had stunned Li Xuerui in 2012 when the Chinese was reigning Olympic medallist at her home turf in China Open. The reputation of opponents never intimidated her.

But in the last one year, title victories have dried out for her. This season she is yet to open her account. The losses to Okuhara in Thailand Open, Yamaguchi in All England semi-finals and Super Series Finals in December must be hurting. The Indian needs to set the record straight and break the Japanese code when it comes to the all-important battles.

Before that Sindhu will face her first big hurdle in Sung Ji Hyun, another crafty player in the defensive mold. It will be a tricky match for the Indian in the third round and if she is able to conquer her, Okuhara will be waiting at the other end, once again.

First Published: Jul 30, 2018 12:36 IST