Sindhu packs a punch with reach, aggression, perfect anticipation
On the last two days of the World Badminton Championships, PV Sindhu was in her most destructive avatar, dismantling two opponents ranked among the world’s top four.
The newly crowned world champion took 40 minutes to crush Chinese world No 3 Chen Yufei 21-7, 21-14 in the semis, following it up with a 21-7, 21-7 victory over Japanese world No 4 Nozomi Okuhara in the title clash that took 37 minutes. These were the most one-sided wins Sindhu recorded against the two across 9 and 16 meetings, respectively. The two wins were Sindhu’s fastest in terms of duration as well.
Both have beaten her multiple times, and convincingly. However, this weekend was different. “If you look at the way she played against Chen and then Okuhara, there were a couple of matches in the Indonesia Open (in July) where she beat both convincingly in their last meeting. So it kind of plays on their mind,” chief coach Pullela Gopichand said from Basel. “Also, she went into the final relatively after an easy match—something that helped her to progress very well.”
The Hyderabad player’s game was based on sheer force, aggression and precision, a combination that flummoxed Chen and Okuhara. Sindhu followed a pattern through the tournament, especially in the last two matches, which yielded a huge chunk of points and brought out her aggressive best.
She would play a toss high and deep, pushing her shorter opponents to the back court, mixing it up by hitting both to the forehand and backhand of her opponent. The moment the shuttle left the racquet, in an almost reflex action, she leapt and tried reaching the net to attack the return. If the return was a slice or net drop, Sindhu would tap or smash; if deep, she would step back and use her height to hit powerful body or down-the-line smashes, a tactic used extensively against Chen and Okuhara.
“Sindhu was picking the shuttle early and pushing Okuhara to the back court, never allowing her any room. She was reaching the net very early, and kept repeating it. It forced Okuhara to the back of the court, and she was completely dominating the play,” former chief national coach Vimal Kumar said. “She hit good down-the-line smashes, and played like that the whole week.”
Sindhu also constantly attacked the serves of Chen and Okuhara. While a shuttler usually waits for a return, players do pounce on it for surprise. Sindhu did this regularly, like SABR (Sneak Attack By Roger) where the Swiss attacks the second serve by taking it on half volley by rushing to the net the moment his opponent starts to serve.
The moment the serve crossed the net, Sindhu reached out early, before the shuttle began dying, either pushing it deep or playing a delicate drop to leave opponents perplexed.
“The way she played was fantastic, the emphatic manner in which she won, the complete domination, and the strategy she was able to execute was something that was phenomenal,” says Gopichand.
Sindhu’s height was also an advantage. At 179cm (5 ft 11 in), she is one of the tallest women’s singles players, and definitely the tallest in the top 20 in the world. Her jump smashes can be more powerful and tough to retrieve, and she can lunge further than others, making the retrieving of net drops a little easier than others.
“Sindhu made good use of her height and could reach all four corners of the court. I liked the way she was pushing the shuttle to the back of the court and taking the shuttle early at the net; even service return was so quick,” said Kumar, under whom Saina Nehwal became the first Indian shuttler to reach a World Championship final in 2015.
One factor that stood out for Sindhu was the cutting down of unforced errors, for which she was grateful to Gopichand and Korean coach Kim Ji-hyun. The inclusion of the Korean to the national coaching setup for women’s singles has worked wonders for her.
“Kim has been able to spend a couple of hours in the morning and evening one-to-one, which helped Sindhu to keep working on the skill aspect,” said Gopichand.
Polishing her skills made Sindhu so dominant Okuhara was barely able to score points. Most of her points came from the few unforced errors Sindhu committed. “She has really cut down on unforced errors. The seven points Okuhara won (in the second game) were all from Sindhu’s errors, Okuhara didn’t win them, the reason for Sindhu’s domination. She is slowly getting better thanks to her coaches, Gopi and Kim,” added Kumar.