Bellaetrix Manuputty is ranked No. 24 in the world, which is 13 places behind PV Sindhu. The Indian towers over the Indonesian in height. Manuputty is petite and there is no one particular stroke which she owns that stands out. Against an aggressive player like Sindhu, she was the underdog in the second singles at the Siri Fort.
But Sindhu’s take-away from perhaps the longest match of her career till date, will remain lessons in stoicism against a wily opponent who tested her mental strength with every trick in the book. It was the spirit of Sindhu’s 16-21, 21-10, 23-25 victory snatched after a 1 hour 24 minute battle, that paved the way for India’s maiden entry into the semifinals of the Uber Cup, assuring the hosts of a bronze medal.
India will now play Japan on Friday for a place in the finals. If today’s showing is anything to go by, the hosts may extend their stay in the tournament.
Saina Nehwal had wrapped up the first tie in India’s favour by beating Lindaweni Fanetri 21-17, 21-10. And it was her younger compatriot Sindhu’s turn to get past the lower-ranked player and put India in a commanding position.
Sindhu took the first game 21-16 but in the second she allowed the Indonesian to come back into the match with a string of errors as she tried to rush through points early. Manuputty winning the second game 21-10, in spite of what the scoreline suggests, ought to have been no reason to panic for the Indian camp.
But the clever Indonesian made up for what she lacked in powerful strokes by adopting a strategy that would frustrate Sindhu in the third game.
In simple terms it was a time-wasting tactic. Manuputty first started indicating that her hamstring was troubling her early in the third game.
The Indonesian was tiring but she could still stay in the game because the shuttles were slower in the air on Thursday. Using every ounce of energy left in her, Manuputty further slowed down the game by engaging Sindhu in long rallies — a natural irritant for an aggressive player like her. While Sindhu can dribble and play smartly at the net, it is an aspect of her game that is still strictly developing.
The Indonesian attempted to force Sindhu into a net game and when Sindhu pushed the shuttle to the back of the court, Manupatty cut out the risks and played a safe game also denying the Indian anything to work with.
The longer the points got, the more frustrated Sindhu became as she was not able to finish off rallies as quickly as she wanted.
What further irritated the World No.11 Indian was that Manuputty was taking an eternity to get back into position to receive serve or to serve.
In what would have set the Indian’s teeth on edge, Manuputty also took off the taping around her knee, then walked around the court in a circle at a snail’s pace. The official warned the Indonesian to hurry up between points but she cleverly pushed the limits. Not only were the rallies stretching as Sindhu was drawn into a defensive game but she was getting restless because she was not able to take a clear lead in the decisive game.
By keeping the Indian waiting time and again, Manuputty not only got time to catch her breath but also played on Sindhu’s patience. To her credit Sindhu saved two match points, at 19-20 and 20-21 to stay in the game. Munupatty also fought back from the brink saving two match points at 21-22 and 22-23 before Sindhu was able to bag two consecutive points to give India a 2-0 lead after her 84 minute-battle.
The adrenaline rush that Sindhu’s win gave the home team allowed Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa to also raise their game and win 21-18, 21-18 against Greysia Polii and Nitya Krishinda Maheshswari to give India an unassailable lead. “I needed to have a lot of patience as we were engaged in rally after rally,” a relieved Sindhu was to say later, adding, “I think it was a game that was physically demanding and the stamina also mattered. It was really important (fitness) because she was very tired,” Sindhu said. The wins of Saina, Sindhu and Jwala-Ashwini meant that the third singles and second doubles of the tie — India’s weak links — didn’t have to be exposed.
Hope for Jwala-Ashwini
After Gutta and Ponappa defeated the Indonesian pair, there was a general feeling at the Siri Fort arena that the Indian pair can pull off another win in the semi-final against Japan too. This is because, like the Indonesians, the pair Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi too play an ultra-defensive game.
“The Indonesian pair lift a lot and are very defensive and the shuttles (slower) here are not very conducive to that kind of game. It is very difficult for a team to defend when you are 2-0 down and the crowd is against you. It is the same kind of game the Japanese play because they strive on defence,” chief national coach P Gopichand said. Jwala too exuded confidence after Thursday’s win.
“Ashwini and I are known for our attacking game but today we were also able to defend well and forced them to move. I think against the Japanese we will be able to do well.”
Thomas Cup (Quarterfinals ) Results:
(China 3- Thailand 0)
Chen Long, China, beats Boonsak Ponsana, Thailand, 21-16, 21-8; Chai Biao and Hong Wei, China, beats Maneepong Jongjit and Nipitphon Puangpuapech, Thailand, 21-18, 21-14.
Du Pengyu, China, beats Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, Thailand, 21-14, 22-20.
UBER Cup (Quarterfinals ) Results:
(China 3- England 0)
Li Xuerui, China, defeated Fontaine Mica Chapman, England, 21-15, 21-9.
Bao Yixin and Tang Jinhua, China, defeated Gabrielle Adcock and Lauren Smith, England, 22-20, 21-10; Wang Shixian, China, defeated Sarah Walker, England, 21-7, 21-13.