PV Sindhu’s 19-21, 21-19, 21-15 scorchingly defiant victory over World No.2 Shixian Wang at Copenhagen’s World Championships on Friday can be rated as perhaps the best comeback in badminton by an Indian in recent years.
It’s the finest and most furious counter-attack, since Sindhu’s previous Houdini act, where only a day earlier, she’d saved five match-points to make the quarters against Korean Yeon Ju Bae. Which itself was the fiercest riposte seen by Indian fans since Sindhu (her again) had lit up the Delhi summer with five back-to-back come-from-behind thrillers in this year’s Uber Cup.
While gaining this flattering and fiery reputation as world badminton’s ‘Comeback Kid’, the 19-year-old Sindhu has also assured herself of her second consecutive bronze medal from the World Championships. It could get better when she faces Tzu Ying Tai of Taipei, a plucky but less puzzling player, ranked 8 to Sindhu’s 12 on Saturday. While experts are raving about the teenaged Indian’s ability to soak in the early punches, trail in scores and come raging back into matches that would seem like lost causes, the Copenhagen comeback is even more formidable since it came against China’s most tenacious fighter Shixian Wang.
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Shixian’s known for her long-drawn battles herself, but after paddling around noisily for the first set, looked like a sitting duck when Sindhu broke the shackles and unleashed her smashes to emerge victorious from being a set and 16-12 down.
A typical Sindhu comeback becomes imminent when she starts raising roaring decibels after picking points.
On Friday, she seemed to be falling off not too long after Saina Nehwal had gone down to World No 1 Xuerui Li. Much like last year’s Worlds in China where she beat two home girls on way to her maiden bronze, Sindhu changed gears in a blink to overturn Shixian’s challenge with a swift change in strategy, just five points away from losing the match.
With her ability to attack incessantly throughout three sets, and a fitness to match that intent, Sindhu had left it for late. But like it has been all summer, she turned into a woman possessed when cornered by the Chinese who deals in deft drops and out-lasting rivals. Sindhu had lost to Shixian the last three times they’ve met (head-to-head 3-2 in the Chinese’ favour), but the big stage merited this repartee turn into a one-way retribution, and Sindhu unveiled the big smash as the tiring Shixian was blitzed out of the contest in an hour-and 25-minutes.
It helps that the Indian has improved defensively against the Chinese, to have the confidence of giving back with an unbridled attack. “She keeps fighting, and both today and yesterday, she showed courage to change strategy mid-match and play cleverly,” said coach P Gopichand, who is getting accustomed to being ring-side to typical Sindhu humdingers.
Gopi’s also seen the women’s badminton scene scorch up in 2014 by a group of highly motivated players. “There are horrendous fightbacks on the court this year,” he says.
“Women are not giving up, they’re fighting for every inch in a match, and Sindhu’s right up there with the fighters.”
It would seem like shuttle’s streets are teeming with brawls, but Gopi insists Sindhu won’t be one to back off. He should know, for amongst other things, Gopi — the mentor — actually taught Sindhu, besides all the precise placement of winners, keeping the shuttle low and how to use the smash at every opportunity, to actually scream in a match. The audible weapon has been central to all of Sindhu’s fightbacks this summer.
“She’s changed this last one year,” says Sindhu’s father Ramana, who has seen the transformation-to-tigress from up-close at home.
“She’s a polite, well-behaved, soft-spoken girl. Gopi realised while she had the game to fight back, the docile attitude and body language needed to change. He encouraged her to shout when she played and won points. He told her opponents need to be afraid of her.”
While this fearless and aggressive streak comes naturally to Saina Nehwal, Sindhu needed to be literally taught.
At Copenhagen, you could see Shixian wilting under the onslaught of steep smashes and the screeching guttural yells as Sindhu picked 8 straight points at 12-16 down in the second set, and wrested momentum from the Chinese — who can’t boast of the big smash in her arsenal, and looks lost if she can’t stretch the rallies out long. In the decider, Sindhu stayed close enough, and changed gears at will, to run away with a win.
The assured bronze is also a mini-comeback of PV Sindhu’s career, after the disappointment of not winning gold at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, a month ago.