PV Sindhu storms into third straight World Championships final
As PV Sindhu arrived on the court to face Chen Yufei of China in world championships semi-final on Saturday, Danish badminton legend Morten Frost, doing TV commentary, said: “Sindhu has very good retrieving skills, runs hard on court and is very good while attacking—when all of these combine she is at her best.”
The observation was spot on as the Indian fifth seed, then warming up to take on the world No 3 at the St. Jakobshalle arena in Basel, combined all her resources to produce her best and crush Chen.
In a repeat of the 2017 World Championships semi-final, where Sindhu beat Chen in straight games at Glasgow, the world No 5 tore into the reigning All England champion, winning 21-7, 21-14 in 40 minutes to enter her third consecutive final.
The Hyderabadi is now only the third player in history to reach three consecutive women’s singles finals, after China’s Han Aiping and Zhang Ning. She will face Nozomi Okuhara in a repeat of the 2017 title clash after the Japanese world No 4 rallied to beat Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon 17-21, 21-18, 21-15.
By defeating Chen, the Rio Olympics silver medallist also maintained her record of never losing to a Chinese opponent at the worlds, winning her seventh match against a player from the neighbouring nation. The performances by Indian players, led by Sindhu, is the chief reason for the Chinese domination coming down, extending its gold medal drought in women’s singles to six years.
Sindhu has had an unremarkable 2019 by her standards so far, having reached only one final at the Indonesia Open in July since her BWF World Tour Finals triumph in December. But the former world No 2 has this uncanny knack of coming good in major events, earning her the reputation of a big tournament player. And August seems to be her favourite, as she has won all her five World Championship medals and the Olympic silver in the month.
Frost had told this correspondent a month back on his visit to India that Sindhu’s game had gone down since her victory in Dubai. But the Danish four-time All England Open champion was all praise for Sindhu’s all-round game on Saturday.
Such was her dominance, Sindhu hardly allowed the fourth seeded Chen to even win more than two consecutive points (which Chen managed only twice, both in the second game) the entire match. The Indian also did not concede the lead at any point in the contest.
Chen tried to move Sindhu around at the start, but the Indian easily countered by covering ground to take the lead. The Hyderabadi turned it around soon and it was Chen who was forced to run around trying to cover ground to retrieve the shuttle.
Sindhu’s game was almost flawless. Her drops and slices were as close to the net as possible, the cross court smashes were precise and the making Chen run around for the shuttle tired out the Chinese. The Indian reached the mid-game break 11-3 ahead in only eight minutes and needed only seven more minutes to close out the first game.
The Chinese tried to fight back in the second game. She knew it was now or never but after the initial few points, the second game was headed in the same direction as the first with Sindhu again dictating terms.
Chen was frustrated and sought guidance from her courtside coaches but nothing seemed to work against an impeccable Sindhu. She was calm and collected, barely giving away points. Her defence was strong, as displayed in the quarter-final against Asian Games champion Tai Tzu Ying, as she repelled any attack from Chen.
As the match progressed, the rallies got even shorter. The Indian gave a fine example of her attacking ability and exquisite net play to win 42 of the 63 points played, taking a 6-3 lead against Chen in career meetings.
“Sindhu brought her A game today,” Chen was quoted as saying by the Badminton World Federation website. “I lacked speed, couldn’t adjust physically and couldn’t get my energy level up for this match as I was a bit tired after yesterday’s match. Sindhu was very speedy and was at 100 percent.”
Third time lucky?
The question now is if Sindhu will get third time lucky in the final, having faltered the previous two times (against Nozomi Okuhara in 2017 and against Carolina Marin last year). If Sindhu wins on Sunday, she’ll become the first Indian to win a title at the world championships.
“I was well prepared today. Overall, the game went really well and I hope it goes the same way tomorrow as well. It’s going to be a bit different. I will give my 100 percent, the rest I don’t know,” said a confident Sindhu.
“I am happy but not satisfied yet because there’s one more match to go. I’d definitely want to get gold, but it’s not going to be easy. I will need to have focus and patience.”
Sindhu will take on third seed Okuhara in a repeat of the epic final two years ago. The Japanese had prevailed in that incredible clash lasting one hour, 50 minutes. However, the Indian holds an 8-7 win-loss record and also won the last time they met, in Indonesia in July.
“There’s not much of strategy because we know each other’s game, we play each other all the time. It’s just that on the court, every point matters,” Sindhu said.