Not every badminton match can resemble fiery protestors charging forward one fearsome step at a time pushing back a file of defensive riot cops. In her last two tournament exits – against Tai Tzu at Hong Kong and against Sung Ji Hyun at the Dubai Super Series Finals–PV Sindhu would have realised that the menacing lunge ain’t the only way of breaking opposition ranks.
Should pace, strength and general energy desert her – no one can operate on the top gear at all times – Sindhu will have to tolerate the meticulous point constructors like her Korean nemesis on Saturday, or the plain outrageously talented ones like Tai Tzu, both of whom made the season ending finals at Hamdan Sports Complex, and beat them back into the trenches even when bulldozing isn’t an option.
No half measures
There’s no dearth of effort when it comes to Sindhu. Father Ramana has spoken about how she would practice from 3.45 am to 5.30 am before flying out to felicitation functions post the Rio silver medal. Trainer Kiran has spoken about how coach Gopichand and he have drawn out detailed itineraries which include one mandatory gym session at the hotel no matter which part of India is showering compliments on her, presenting her giant cheques and celebrating the historic Rio triumph. Strokes are being chiseled and fitness has been kept at top notch no matter how busy Sindhu’s other commitments. Badminton’s never been allowed to take a back seat even if the 21-year-old would want to put her long feet up and rest up a little.
For three years before this one now, PV Sindhu has wrapped up her season winning the year-ending tier 2 Grand Prix title at Macau even as the top names in the game had headed out to Dubai for the glitzy elite Super Series finale.
This year after her grandest triumph – India’s biggest in shuttle too – Sindhu would’ve hoped to end on a high. But badminton at the highest level can leave you knackered, and at the close of a season in which Sindhu emerged as the surprise challenger (earning the Most Improved Player tag) it was inevitable that all the fatigue would eventually catch up.
Sindhu played bravely in the circumstances. She might not have looked like winning this one at any point – she went down 21-15, 18-21, 21-15 eventually, but she had looked determined to not make this easy for the Korean.
Like Sindhu – born to volleyball parents, Sung is an offspring of two of Korea’s most talented badminton players. The athletic gene might’ve never been in doubt but she’s often accused of lacking an attacking kill shot – a potent smash, and of not having that mental belligerence that can pull her through decisive end-games. Both of those, Sindhu has plenty of. Except, that sort of a game demands top intensity which is hard to sustain over half season.
Sung on the other hand specializes in playing the floating strokes, reasonable deception, and has a solidity to her game which can stay doggedly close to plans sketched out by coaches. She is conservative with risk taking – so fewer errors and like most Koreans can retrieve to save her life, so long rallies don’t put her off.
At Dubai, she sucked the life out of Sindhu’s attack, puncturing it off its pace and relied on classical diagonal plan – playing the shuttle to alternate corners on forecourt and back. Sindhu tried the high clears and tosses, she tried the net trap – tight spinning dribbles to Sung’s backhand front court, and she had these bursts of high-paced rallies intermittently use as bludgeons.
But the Korean felt upto it on the day and made Sindhu do all the running instead while staying steady in her retrieving.
Sung is a creative force – and it needs reiteration minus the big smash – but she uses the court well, seeing angles and empty spaces that can be exploited if her opponent doesn’t up the pace. Today, she didn’t tire out either and looked particularly driven to not go down after taking the leads.
Sindhu when denied a spurt of points and watching most of her attacking shots picked by Sung, could never summon that audacity which often takes her through these situations as she went down in the semis. Just as well that she can watch from a distance as Tai Tzu Ying and Sung Ji Hyun play a different brand of badminton – high on strokes and supremely tactical where aggression only ends up in puddles of errors.