Tokyo 2020: How PV Sindhu added new tricks to her repertoire on way to bronze
PV Sindhu looked like she was under no pressure, countering aggressively at the net every time Bing Jiao came forward, mixing it up with her flicks, catching Bing Jiao wrong footed several times.
PV Sindhu had to start afresh on Sunday. On the cusp of a successive Olympic final, she suffered a demoralising defeat at the hands of Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei in the semi-final on Saturday.
But when she showed up for the bronze medal playoff, it was as the dominating player who had not lost a game before her semifinal defeat, a player who had come to Tokyo with an improved arsenal of shots and tactics under her Korean coach Park Tae Sang. The 26-year-old took 52 minutes to beat China’s He Bing Jiao 21-13, 21-15.
He Bing Jiao is known for elongating rallies, tiring out her opponents and loves net play. The Chinese showed signs of her game in the early stages but Sindhu kept doing what was necessary - keeping the shuttle in play. As she got into her groove, the Indian began to dominate rallies, took the bird away from the net and kept the rallies short in the Tokyo Games bronze medal match - exactly opposite to Bing Jiao’s style of play.
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“She had the glow on her face again today. Today Sindhu dominated the net very well which she didn’t do yesterday,” said former chief national coach U Vimal Kumar. “She was worried about what Tai Tzu would do to her. Even though Bing Jiao is very good, Sindhu played well at the net, got her openings and employed her smashes very well. Overall, she played good badminton like how she played against Akane Yamaguchi in the quarter-finals. Very impressive.”
Sindhu looked like she was under no pressure, countering aggressively at the net every time Bing Jiao came forward, mixing it up with her flicks, catching Bing Jiao wrong footed several times. “That is something she could have done yesterday instead of playing everything into Tai Tzu’s hand. The pace wasn’t good and when Tai Tzu gets it in her hand, it is not easy,” added Kumar.
Bing Jiao was trying to engage her in long rallies, but Sindhu kept her calm and stayed true to her tactics, letting her opponent know every point won with a loud scream of “come on”. With an improved net game, Sindhu used the drift well to her advantage - with and against - especially the drops coming in from the back of the court. Her straight drops deceiving Bing Jiao - and slices easily winning points, as she took more and more control.
Another important factor was the energy spent in the semis. While Sindhu spent only 40 minutes on court on Saturday, her opponent's game went on for double that time.
“That extra energy is needed as you play because all matches are tough. And all these girls are very tough. So that would have definitely helped her towards her recovery,” said Kumar, who coached Saina Nehwal to the world No.1 ranking.
Some new strokes which her Korean coach Park Tae Sand introduced into her game during the lockdown also came into play in Tokyo. The counter dribble at the net area, hitting slow drops from the back of the court were very effective against every opponent in Tokyo - barring Tai Tzu Ying.
Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic halted the international badminton calendar in 2020, Sindhu has played a mere five tournaments - all in the first three months of 2021. While her rivals continued playing leagues and domestic tournaments in Europe and Asia, Sindhu had no choice but to simply continue training with Park, at one point shifting to the airy Gachibowli Stadium to get the “feel” of the Olympic stadium.
Park had worked a lot on Sindhu’s defence and motion skills in the run-up to the Olympics and said that it paid off.
“For Sindhu defence has been a weakness, there is no problem with her attack,” Park told PTI. “Every player, every coach knows that and today her defence was 200%. It was superb. In fact, the entire tournament, barring yesterday, she has been very good in defence.”
The Korean added that he has been working on her net play and defence and he’s “happy it worked”.
Park said that Sindhu was moved to tears following her loss to Tai Tzu. “Sindhu was very sad yesterday. She was feeling down and cried a little bit too. I told her she should not feel sad and we have to focus on the bronze medal and it turned out to be an amazing match,” said Park.
Sindhu used the group matches to get used to the conditions, adjust to the drift and the shuttles.
“The most important thing is that even if you have learned things (in training), you don’t waste it,” said Kumar. “Many of them under pressure, they don't implement them, but Sindhu is implementing these. So that’s a big plus.”