PV Sindhu is steadily making her way to conquering the final frontier of badminton’s Super Series circuit — the China Open. Although one of a dozen titles up for grabs in the year-round caravan of shuttle’s season, the China Open is a fortress with the Chinese women having won 23 of the 25 previous editions. On Friday in Fuzhou, Sindhu got past one of the best of the new crop of youngsters from the powerhouse when she downed local He Bingjiao 22-20, 21-10 to make her maiden China Open semifinal.
The 39-minute quarterfinal wrangle gave Sindhu her second ever Super Series semifinal – she had reached the finals at Denmark in October last year.
Olympic champion Carolina Marin lost on Friday, putting the Rio silver medallist in a commanding position to target the title, though Korean Hyun Ji Sung is no pushover. The only two non-Chinese to win the China Open are Malaysian Mew Choo Wong and India’s Saina Nehwal two years ago.
Nehwal had also lost in the final last year, and Sindhu’s march beating Bingjiao who she lost to in Paris a fortnight ago, could well lead to a third straight Indian in the China Open finals.
Bingjiao is a stocky 19-year-old Chinese perfectly capable of troubling any of the world’s Top 10 players. She has two titles under her belt – the French in late October and the Japan Open right after Olympics. Not quite the class of China’s top players of the last half decade – Xuerui Li, Yihan Wang or Shixian Wang, all bankable in their day, but armed with a winning game — Bingjiao had made the most of the post-Olympic siesta of the top names and displayed fine temperament to win those titles. Moreover, the Chinese teen had a 4-2 lead over Sindhu in the matches played over the last year.
On Friday though, Sindhu shrugged off the rust from Paris.
The opening set saw the Chinese stalk Sindhu at every step, briefly taking the lead at 14-12 and levelling at 20-all. At Paris, Sindhu had loosened her grip on the game at this juncture, an awareness that snapped her out of falling into a similar trap.
“I wanted to play safe, didn’t plan specific strategy since things change suddenly,” Sindhu told the BWF website after the match. “After I got lead in second, I reminded myself to not relax. First game was crucial as it was close. I had lost a similar game to her in French Open,” she added.
From 6-4 in the second, she would sprint off, not taking her foot off the pedal thereafter. Sindhu reckons Bingjiao has good strokes and smooth movement. “She looks calm and moves softly, but she keeps fighting, so didn’t want to get complacent,” she told BWF.
It’s a different breed of player than Carolina Marin – who the world watched win a furiously paced final at the Olympics. But Sindhu, striking form again after the Rio silver for the first time, showed glimpses of her ability to prevail in the patient game.
It should prove helpful given her Korean opponent on Saturday operates at a languid pace and can bide her time in long rallies. Still, given the Korean was stretched to 70 minutes in her battle against the pugnacious Akane
Yamaguchi with the match decided in the last two close points, Sindhu can fancy her chances of going deeper into the China Open draw to stake claim to the title.
Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying – who Sindhu beat easily at the Olympics, and the tall Chinese Sun Yu will play the other semifinal. Sindhu will take the court around 1 pm India time.
An important title
It’s been a stupendous year for PV Sindhu – winning a silver medal in her maiden Olympics and continuing to shine at the biggest global events, unleashing her shock power game played at a ferocious pace. She’s not really targeted the events on the regular circuit with all her might, though there were the familiar wins against the Chinese top names at Odense when she made the Danish finals. The China Open could be the start of Sindhu hitting some evenness in performance though the China Open title would rank higher than notions of consistency.
Still two steps away, though, Sindhu believes she’s come back well after the post-Rio celebrations and other commitments, though she was never too far from training even at the peak of her felicitations. “Everything’s changed for me after the Olympics,” Sindhu told bwfbadminton.org at the start of the China Open. “I got back to practise soon after that. I did well in Denmark and Paris but the matches were very close; in Denmark I lost narrowly to Sayaka Sato and in Paris to He Bingjiao. Both the matches could’ve gone my way. I’m happy with the way I’m playing,” she had added speaking to the website at the start of the week.
In a year that’s seen her become the greatest Indian woman achiever with an Olympic silver, everything else will pale in comparison. But there’s serious swag value to the China Open and plenty of bragging rights, currently in the possession of just two other non-Chinese women’s singles players.
One of them is Saina.