This time I think it could be anybody's game: Sindhu on the Olympics - Hindustan Times
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This time I think it could be anybody's game: Sindhu on the Olympics

Jun 14, 2024 10:28 PM IST

The Indian shuttler hasn't been in the best of form but has reason to believe that the tide is turning

It’s mid morning at the Dravid Padukone academy and PV Sindhu and Nehwal are on either side of the net, smacking the shuttle at each other. It’s not Nehwal, her senior, storied rival and first Indian Olympic medalist in badminton. Neer Nehwal is a 17-year old male trainee from Noida, who won the UP State Senior Championship last year and is making quick returns to the two-time Olympic medalist. Sindhu is getting away from the pre-Olympic bustle in India and will camp in the German town of Saarbrucken till the Paris Games.

India's Pusarla V. Sindhu plays a return against Taiwan's Hsu Wen Chi during their women's singles round of 32 match at the Indonesia Open(AP)
India's Pusarla V. Sindhu plays a return against Taiwan's Hsu Wen Chi during their women's singles round of 32 match at the Indonesia Open(AP)

She is coming off three tournaments on the Asian leg – one final, one second round exit and one first round loss. Troubles against familiar foes remain. She ran her long-time rival Carolina Marin her closest ever this time at the Singapore Open, before losing again. Sindhu hasn’t beaten the Spaniard since 2018.

“Matches between us are never easy... We both probably irritate each other in our own way,” she tells HT, laughing.

But the 28-year old Indian is also the kind of player who can have a bunch of forgettable tournaments and then just scythe through the draw at a major event and walk away with a medal.

“Everyone is saying ‘it’s your third Olympics, it’s your third Olympics’, so in my head it’s like ‘ok wow’. I’m excited and I’m in good shape, touchwood," said Sindhu. "I don’t want to take too much pressure but obviously pressure is going nowhere. This time I think it could be anybody's game, there are no obvious favorites.

“Between 2016, when I won my first medal, and now, the game has changed a lot I think. It’s more defensive now and there are a lot more rallies so you have to be much more patient. It’s what I learnt in two Olympics. Be patient and just do what you’re doing.”

There are a few obvious problem areas though. Her play at the clutch, in the Malaysia Masters final she lost for instance, has been befuddling. She went from an 11-3 lead to not knowing what hit her.

“I tell her, ‘Sindhu you’re looking good but it’s still not clicking’ ,” coach Vimal says, “She’s not playing the right shot most of the time. She’s obviously capable of it. But she seems to be holding back for some reason.”

She’s also made a few puzzling line calls lately. The one where she lost a match point against Marin still rankles.

“I just was letting the shuttles go,” Sindhu wipes her forehead, in seeming regret, “It’s happened in a lot of matches for me. In the Marin match I shouldn’t have done it but the court was very tricky at that point. Sometimes it would go out from one end very fast and the other end very slowly”

What Sindhu has going in her favour is injury-free limbs. Some of the top names are seemingly fighting sore bodies. At the Singapore Open, Marin complained of a terrible neck pain, An Se Yeong has been struggling with a knee injury, Tai Tzu too has a bothersome left knee.

“The way I look at it she has the experience and has nothing to lose. That should hopefully work to her favour,” said Vimal.

Under her new coaching set up in Bengaluru helmed by Prakash Padukone, work has been put into rebuilding Sindhu’s attacking game.

“Attack doesn’t mean you hit from everywhere, it’s what we’ve been telling Sindhu," Vimal said, "Attack is when you’re in charge, you’re dictating the pace, you’re making your opponent run. Otherwise you’re just letting your opponent finish off the point.”

Sindhu is aware of the chinks in her game. She wonders aloud what the drift conditions will be like in Paris. She's played at the venue previously during the French Open and found it alright, but ventures it might not be the same during the Games. The Olympics for her is a familiar beast. She's acquainted with the cauldron of emotions it can evoke.

“Sometimes you’re very comfortable. Sometimes you're telling yourself 'I need to be back to my attacking self'. Sometimes you're under a lot of pressure and you feel like you can't take it anymore. It's just a lot of things going on inside your head. I just want to go there and give my best and not think of anything else.”

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