Days like Thursday,and victories like the one PV Sindhu scored over Chinese World No. 6 Shixian Wang,make the upcoming Indian shuttlers pre-dawn,six-days-a-week 4.30 am starts worth the while. At the Badminton Asia Championships,coming up against the tireless Chinese a former World No. 1 the Indian teenager rallied to win 15-21,21-14,22-20 in an hour-long battle,playing from memory of those practice sessions at daybreak at her Hyderabad academy of all these months.
For,soon after badminton coach P Gopichand shepherded Saina Nehwal to India’s historic bronze at the London Olympics last August,he had taken on his other pet-project – the lanky and prodigiously talented Sindhu.
Yawns ordered into wakeful submission,limbs loosened up for the strenuous workout,Sindhu would take to the training courts every day and get drawn into a series of dozen-shot rallies,and then two or three dozen back-and-forths with no one less than the head coach bombarding her with feeder-shuttles,dispatching her to different parts of the court.
On Thursday at the Taipei Arena leading the Indian challenge,Sindhu was ready for the hour-long battle against Shixian,the Chinese known for her gladiatorial matches. (She’s played an 80-minute gritting tug-of-war against Nehwal and two other games over an hour against India’s No 1.)
Speaking about her triumph in which she came back from a set down,and a minor fumble in the dying minutes,Sindhu said,”Yes,the match was long,but I’m used to playing very long rallies with Gopi Sir daily in the morning session.” The 5’10” Indian had earlier beaten Chinese Olympic champion Xuerui Li a month after the London Games.
Sindhu took her time to settle in against Shixian and was a set down,but never looked like she was about to give up. “I had played well in the first set and wasn’t giving away negative points. I was confident that I could win the second set,” she says of her minimal unforced errors. “She showed glimpses of domination which are very good and point to her being top-class material. But she’s at least two years away from that,” said coach Gopichand of the 17-year-old.
Not yet the complete deal
What almost gave away her slight immaturity was the manner in which she got her game into a pickle,having levelled the sets,and taking a 17-11 lead in the decider making a flurrry of mistakes. “I was in a hurry to finish the match at that point and I made mistakes. But she’s very experienced,so she pounced on that,” she said.
The Asian meets are at times tougher than the Worlds or Olympics. There are no easy pickings here,and Sindhu did well to claim her second Chinese scalp at a meet which the Chinese consider their bastion. While both her marquee wins have been against top Chinese,Shixian was considerably different from the World No 1,and perhaps a tougher game because Sindhu was trailing in the third. While Xuerui is very good in deep drop shots and powerful smashes,Shixian aces long rallies. On Thursday,Sindhu’s net game and smashing got the job done,and the drop-dribbles that she had specifically trained for could be easily summoned. Her low-defence against the deep smashes,and cross retorts too were on the mark.
Coach Gopichand though preached moderation in reacting to this win. “She’s capable of doing great things,but she’s still not consistent. So if she gets a big win today,she could lose tomorrow. She needs to gain more experience before she can level out these ups and downs. Don’t hype it too much,” he insisted.