Minatsu Mitani was last in the Top 10 four years ago. Like most Japanese, she posed no visible tremors for PV Sindhu in the quarterfinal of the Korea Super Series. But the Indian who is tipped to rise to World No 2 next week, wasn’t going to allow complacency to seep into her game. The 22-year-old World Championship and Olympic silver medallist won 21-19, 16-21, 21-10, comfortably in the end to make her first Korean semis, but she uncoiled the fury compiled over two weeks of training in Hyderabad post the World Championship, where she was bested in the final by a more proficient Japanese.
It was a 63-minute sneak peek into what the Indian has been doing back home, before she meets left-handed Chinese He Bingjiao in the semis – looking desperately to have another go at Nozomi Okuhara, should the World Champion get past compatriot Akane Yamaguchi.
So, the Japanese are crowding Sindhu’s immediate space, and only some hard, deep hitting will help her break the shackles.
“That part is over,” courtside coach Sidharth Jain said after Sindhu had booked her place in the Last 4 at Seoul. ‘That part’ was the World Championship which has been shrugged off like a vexing dream. “As soon as she came back she was told, Glasgow is done. This is a fresh start. The women’s singles circuit is so competitive that anyone can beat anyone, and we can’t keep thinking about the World Championships. We also cant take for granted other opponents because everyone is playing at high levels of pace and fitness, and she started training completely fresh,” he explained.
On Thursday, Sindhu found a bruising streak, even as the drift made lives miserable for most shuttlers. Whoever controls the shuttle in that typhoon of the SK Handball Stadium, will win Korea, and Sindhu took the challenge head-on. “Her start wasnt that great, but her body language was very aggressive. That’s one thing that will be seen after the Worlds,” Jain said.
From leading 7-3 in the opener, Sindhu would watch Mitani, World No 13, level at 8-8, playing at a brisk pace. The scores stayed neck to neck in short, snappy rallies though Sindhu was showing glimpses of a beefed up attack from the back court, after the two reached 16-all.
She would race to 19-16 and even when the Japanese threatened to strike back stalking back to level at 19-19, would muscle her way into the two decisive points to take Set 1.
Silly errors allowed Mitani to take the mid-set 21-16. But it was in the decider that Sindhu gave vent to the full force of her attacking prowess.
While plenty of rallies featured cross-shots to Mitani’s mid-court on the backhand side after Sindhu realised that the drift was spraying the shuttle wide if she hit straighter, the dominance happened from the backcourt strokes.
Since the Worlds, Sindhu has worked feverishly on getting faster on her hand movements, it was her hand-speed from the back of the court specially on the forehand that saw her first catch the shuttle early and hit deep penetrating whips at lightening pace that sent the shuttle in a jiffy to the back of the court.
It was something she had been trying even in the Worlds final, but managed to force Mitani to return from the
baseline which cost the Japanese plenty of points. Sindhu’s crosscourts too from the back carried the sting as they got faster and she would take a 9-6 lead in the third and keep proliferating the gap as Mitani was snowed under the assault.
“We’ve worked on her handspeed in both offense and defense,” Jain said. As such, Sindhu is picking points of her fast cross defense too that zips diagonally at awkward angles. Sindhu would completely go after Mitani’s backhand to wrap up the third.
“It was crucial that Sindhu struck that good length – where the shuttle was going right to the back and the Japanese didn’t have an answer,” Jain said later.
The Indian has been feeding off the fitness reservoir of the Worlds, and left-handed He Bingjiao who was stretched to 77 minutes against Korean Sung Ji Hyun will run into a rampaging Sindhu whose challenge will be again to read the drift. He and Sindhu are 3-3 currently with the Chinese winning the last faceoff.
With her hand-speed inching closer to the blistering pace she’d struck at Olympics and with improved fitness and strength, Sindhu is a more formidable player than at Rio. Seoul though will test her in other ways, given the variety in women’s singles.