Updated: August 1, 2021 6:32:13 am
Tai Tzu Ying denied PV Sindhu the lofty airspace from where she usually can bring her magnificent power into the game, raining smashes down with a roar. Making the Indian retrieve low dippers very close to the net repeatedly, purposefully, deliberately, unceasingly and finally tiresomely, Tai sucked the strength and ability to dominate out of the Indian, denying her a second straight Olympic final.
Tai won 21-18, 21-12 in the Tokyo Games semis, a scoreline similar to the Asian Games final. While breaking her own jinx of falling at the quarters, the Chinese Taipese shuttler, in turn pushed Sindhu into a difficult bronze medal playoff against Chinese southpaw, He Bingjiao.
While Sindhu had thrived at the net right upto the quarters against Yamaguchi, it was in being pinned at the forecourt corners that her challenge perished.
Trouble with taking on Tai at the net is that she can cook you three-ways there. Having decided to test Sindhu’s lunging backhand forecourt defense, Tai made the Indian bend, and then bend more to keep the shuttle in play. Sindhu’s defense has improved, but it takes an almighty toll when your opponent is pinging it to one spot and spatially you are staring at the floor more than looking at the roof and the court lights smashing down. It leaves you exhausted to try anything else.
Like a good fast bowler – Ambrose, McGrath, or even Waqar, Tai Tzu kept pestering on the low defense and then flicked her fanning wrist this way and that to the yawning open back court.
A little rattlingly for Sindhu, her body defense crumbled – there’s little you can do when it’s Tai. And even more wretchedly, she had smashes you could count on fingers to ease the pressure. Surprisingly, she led most of the opening game – or was led to believe by Tai that she was leading.
The carnage wasn’t brutal. And that made it more difficult. She wasn’t exactly smashing at Sindhu’s torso, it was at times just the push from the net.
Any opponent of Tai underwrites that her magical strokes will bring her half a dozen points – those are accounted for. So there was the round the head drop, the taut crosscourt where she literally pauses the shuttle for a second mid-air before sending it back in an anti-magnetic arc. Sindhu was rooted somewhere on the backcourt, and the shuttle would drop pace and fall short. There were the cross slices played from the mid-court, and then a winner at the net in the acutest of angles, with a backhand action that seemed to go straight up.
Twice, her wizardry brought errors from the backhand net, but she had hit the lengths so precise that the flubs never cost her much. Never dented her confidence. Somehow the leads in Sindhu’s possession seemed like they were never a safe insurance. The first interval at 11-8 was perhaps the Indian’s only takeaway of note.
The threat of a smash or a backcourt winner with all manners of deception on it loomed so heavy – it’s where Tai encashes her ‘talented’ tag – that Sindhu never looked comfortable even though she was retrieving quite a lot.
Post the first interval, Tai would get down to business. Stringing Sindhu along, the Indian would be a yo-yo on the diagonal, a deep smash to her hip on the forehead, and then a dipper at the backhand net. Somewhere in between this earnest hardwork from Sindhu, Tai slipped in the winners, drawn from rendering her imbalanced and tamgle-toed.
At 16-16, the signs were looking ominous for Sindhu, not because the lead dried up, but because there had hardly been any winners from her side.
Tai’s errors gave her most points.
In closing out, Tai relied on fast straight exchanges, as Sindhu started limping the bird into the net. The Taipese would seal the first set with a straightest of smash buzzing her ear.
Sindhu came out with visible intent in the second – the shoulders revved up for the next level hand speed. But it was always going to be difficult to hit through Tai. With the wind behind her, there was also the fear of overshooting her backcourt attack.
It’s not like Sindhu didn’t lift confidently at the net or didn’t plan her backcourt attack well. It’s just that as the match slipped away, her confidence in finding the lines evaporated and she couldn’t construct rallies to find any sort of rhythm.
In the second, Tai didn’t pretend to keep things in striking distance. She just struck. Opening up a 5 point lead at interval with deception used to distress the Indian rather than dazzle, Tai had hit her stride.
From mid-second set, she scythed at the rallies. Short, snappy diktats. No resistance brooked. Things imploded quickly from 7-1 to 8-13 to 8-16, a mammoth 8 point lead which Sindhu couldn’t hope to breach because she wasn’t doing too much wrong.
Then the trickery of Tai evolved in all its tapestry as she began treating the shuttle, like magicians control feathers. The court would become her canvas, and she was sketching and painting winners whichever way she liked.
Sindhu’s brief fallback on power was in vain.
At 12-18 Sindhu would submit the shuttle into the net, gift a matchpoint by being nowhere close to Tai’s cross and seal it with a cross-smash that boasted of power.
There’s another left-hander Sindhu ought to quickly train her sights on for her last match of the Olympics and a bronze. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, a younger Sindhu had gathered herself after a semi loss and got the job done. A silver and a bronze will be commendable pickings from two Olympics.
Just as well, the Tai match was snappy, short, and not drawn out.
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