Pink was the new red hot at King Edward’s Road, as PV Sindhu finished matters in the first round of the All England 21-10, 21-11. The clock didn’t even hit the half-hour-mark, as she blitzed through 63 points in 29 minutes against Denmark’s 23-year-old Mette Poulsen, ranked 33 in the world. The Olympic silver medallist, wearing pink on Wednesday, is looking sharp — a second quicker even than when she won the China Open last November. And it was her striding net defence and return to the T that is pointing to a promising outing at the hallowed All England this week.More assured in her shot selection, even though her opponent was strictly limited in her own repertoire, Sindhu was generous with her big game holding nothing back in the opener. She meets Indonesian Dinar Dyah Ayustine in what should be another romp before being exerted in a possible quarterfinal clash with Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying.
But Sindhu looked ready to mount a title charge bounding out of the blocks and never quite trailing during the straight-games victory on Wednesday.
The short cross smash— one that doesn’t go deep, but flounces to midcourt hit with a springy forearm and elbow, and not much of the shoulder — should be the shot to follow this All England, as the 21-year-old attempts to go deep into the weekend in her first visit to Birmingham since her Rio medal. Saina Nehwal was on course too, easily disposing off Rio bronze medallist Nozomi Okuhara 21-15, 21-14 in 37 minutes in her commanding opener.
UK’s Indian diaspora is used to cheering for Saina Nehwal, but there will be a whole new melee for the aggressive shuttler as NRIs match decibel levels with the usually vocal Chinese and Indonesians trooping in even from London.
Wednesday, though, belonged to another frenzied Indian as HS Prannoy came close to quietly exiting before adding some shrieking winners that masked a tactical tweak when beating Chinese Qiao Bin, ranked two places below him. The younger Chinese — that is the non-Lin Dans and Chen Longs — might not be as formidable as the last batch, but Prannoy had dug himself one nice hole – climbing out of which he relished with some typical fervour. Today, it was an 81-minute long marathon – rallying from a game down to win 17-21, 22-20, 21-19.
A hero of the PBL in early January for the Mumbai franchise, Prannoy has shown immense capacity for yo-yoing drama in his performances, but win or lose, he’s easily the most combustible player to watch on court. He lost to junior Lakshya Sen a month ago, and though he didn’t quite drown in misery, it was thought of as an opportunity lost.
“I’ve never won any National title in my life – not under-10, 13, 15, 17, 19 or Senior. So though I deleted that loss from my brain, fact remains I’ve never won,” he said, after staving off another disaster in Birmingham. On Wednesday, up against China’s No 5, he felt peckish about confidence even when leading 20-16 in the second having lost the first. The tall strapping lad then promptly lost four points to bring the match to within two points of another non descript loss. He would grit out of that corner he’d got himself into and push the match into a decider.
Qiao has deep smashes and reasonable deception and is generally a smart operator on the court, dealing in shuttles faster than your average Joe. He is also well trained in pushing the pace of the match while trying to close out matches, and it was at 20-all in the second and leading 18-13 in the third that Prannoy had to drastically alter his game to stay in the hunt.
This he did by lifting the shuttle higher to the Chinese’s backhand and refraining from offering it anywhere in the vicinity of his forehand to collect points after Prannoy tweaked mid-game as if startled into action when struck by lightning.
There are visible changes in Indian shuttlers and their approach to the big points and it helped that the new Indonesian coach – Mulyo Handoyo – who was famously Taufik Hidayat’s mentor – a tactical genius, was courtside for the Indians.
Long the match might have been, but the Indian finished on the right side for once.