You couldn’t possibly begrudge Tai Tzu Ying the 21-15, 21-17 title win on Sunday. Yes, it snapped PV Sindhu’s 9-match run denying her a second straight title at the Hong Kong Super Series after her China triumph. It mangled the script of a Super Finals Day for Indians which had contenders in both singles. But on some Sundays, it ought to be alright to be blissfully unpartisan and take in the thrill of the best of breezy badminton lasting 41 minutes.
Tai Tzu Ying is contemporary women’ singles’ showstopper – minus the showbiz of the big titles that fetch recall value to champion shuttlers. She isn’t a many-time World Champion – in fact she’s never won the biggie – and at the Rio Olympics, her maiden Games, she was bulldozed by Sindhu early in the competition.
She later candidly admitted to being overpowered by the tall Indian. But Tai Tzu binds crowds with spells, she can seduce the neutral to her side with her trickery and is a treat to watch because she kills with the gentlest of whispering strokes.
Badminton’s lucky to have the hyper aggressive Carolina Marin, PV Sindhu and the sublimely talented Tai Tzu Ying inhabit the same era. Quite simply, her crafty, imaginative play is worth paying to watch at shuttle arenas, and worth forgetting about the tiny flag that tends to get all-important when watching sport.
PV Sindhu had looked in good form — not quite Rio’s silver streak — but good enough to bully the little Taipese, swat her away again. The Indian even prevailed in some of the longer rallies, where you got the impression that she’s making her opponent bounce around on the string of a yo-yo.
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But Tai Tzu was upto it, retrieving desperately, even as she continued to chip away at Sindhu’s patience. The young Taipei girl was doing two things right — sending the shuttle at net length towards Sindhu and playing the tightest shots at the net.
The pushes coming the Indian’s way deprived her of the height from which she could smash, negating her vertical advantage altogether. The net shots needed picking — because Tai Tzu thrives on that confidence of watching her bamboozlement work as a match progresses.
Sindhu, perhaps not the sharpest after 12 days of top-level tournament play and preparation — though high on confidence post the China title — attempted her crosscourt steep winners, but was a tad impatient in drawing out errors, the only way she could’ve quietened her rival.
That’s Tai Tzu’s game: she pulls back shuttles out of thin air and can flick her wrists to make the bird travel wherever she pleases with the same hitting action. But she has tended to be very error prone in the past — the artistry trumping accuracy and costing her titles. It’s not just the Olympics, she lost finals at Denmark and Malaysia though she has three titles from 5 contested this year.
The youngster who looked like she played for a lark and loved Singapore because the crowd there had sung her a Happy Birthday a few years ago, had matured. “I’m excited deep down, I just don’t show it,” she said after the win, imbibing inscrutability — a grand departure from her expressive days.
It’s been a conscious effort to cut down the errors, from a shuttler who could ill afford to get carried away with her ability to beautifully set up points while forgetting to score matches playing the risk shots at crucial junctures in the long run. The amends, it seemed, had been made even if the Olympics medal eluded her.
“Sindhu played well in Olympics. Today I was better prepared,” Tai Tzu told BWF, hinting at a changed mindset. “I took it easy, no pressure on myself. My weakness is that I make a lot of unforced errors, have been trying to improve on that,” she added.
Sindhu’s deceptive opponents
Sindhu was thrown the toughest of challenges at the end of this fortnight — a player who she couldn’t command into following her pace or aggression. And who wasn’t making the mistakes she usually committed, gifting points to opponents if you hung in there long enough.
Past head-to-head records become redundant when playing someone like Tai Tzu. Sindhu is bound to run into the likes of the Taipei World No. 3 and the other deceptive force Intanon Ratchanok, and will also need to get used to high intensity games and demands on her agility at the end of long weeks.
It boils down to picking every shuttle that gets thrown at her, and cramping their creativity by not allowing them to flower. Typically, Tai Tzu rains down a flurry of deceptives but one in a dozen is absolutely un-pickable. Save those, opponents need to scurry around for all the rest, and then wait for her to err in long rallies. It might lack the scorching pace of a battle against Carolina Marin, but Tai Tzu matches can tire minds faster.
The Spaniard in fact was left nodding off her loss to Tai Tzu in disbelief a day earlier at Hong Kong.
Sindhu’s been impeccable with her body smash defence, but found it tough to ward off the loopy ones that were directed at her body carrying no pace. In such contests, adrenaline demands that you hit back with fast rallies, but Tai Tzu was a master at stilling time and sucking the blurring speed out of the game denying Sindhu her ripostes. She was challenging Sindhu to a lunge fest rather than making her jump.
The fear that she can trick you never goes away, never mind what happened in the last meeting, and that can play havoc on a circumspect day.
“It was her day. I played well but she played well at the net, she didn’t make any mistakes,” Sindhu told BWF, adding, “I’ve played her many times. She’s a tricky player, has good strokes and deception. I was prepared for everything. But then. one has to win and one has to lose.” PV Sindhu perhaps wasn’t prepared for Tai Tzu having cleared up her act, and shut out the errors. Or like Tai Tzu said: “She’s very tall, has steep attacking shots. Maybe she lost because she was tired after winning in China.”