The presence of star players at the senior badminton nationals has been a major draw for fans. On Tuesday, they witnessed India’s best PV Sindhu, the World No.2, face a player who is brimming with potential. This was not the first time Sindhu and G Ruthvika Shivani have played each other.
The last occasion the two met, in the final of the South Asian Games, it was Ruthvika who stunned Sindhu in two games. But over the past year Sindhu, with silver medals at the Rio Olympics and the World Championships, has taken her game to the next level.
Ruthvika, ranked 83 in the world, and still feeling the after-effects of a knee injury which kept her out of the game for nearly six months, was facing an uphill task.
Ruthvika would not only have to hold her nerve against Sindhu but also hope that her knee didn’t let her down.
Those who expected a one-sided match were pleasantly surprised.
Ruthvika began by countering Sindhu’s attacking play with a flurry of smashes and drop shots. The execution was meticulous, and Sindhu was unsettled. So much so that Ruthvika rushed to a 19-13 lead in the first game.
At 20-17, Sindhu had forced Ruthvika into playing a desperate lob, which was seemingly destined to land out. But Sindhu had misjudged the trajectory and on realising that she had conceded the game, raised her hands and looked towards her coach sheepishly. Ruthvika had wrapped up the game in 14 minutes. At the Divisional Sports Complex in Nagpur, an upset seemed on the cards and the spectators were rooting for the underdog who had held her own against one of the best in the world. She had made Sindhu work hard for her points but there was bound to be a fightback from the World No.2.
In the second game, Sindhu forced Ruthvika to move around court before setting up a finishing shot. The ace shuttler invited her opponent to the net, dribbling a few net shots before looping over. Ruthvika would dutifully retrieve but Sindhu’s relentless game was proving to be too strong. Ruthvika tried to end the rallies early with deft placements and drop shots but in her quest to find the delicate angles she started to err.
Eventually, Ruthvika would lose 17-21, 21-15, 21-11.
“It gave me a lot of confidence to come up with a performance like this, especially after all the injuries I’ve had in the last year,” Ruthvika said after the match.
Recurring knee problems after the Guwahati event kept her away from the sport for over six months. On Tuesday she stepped on court with a heavily strapped left knee.
“I still have to work on my fitness and endurance if I have to challenge the big players,” she added.
From the second game on, she started to tire. Twice the chair umpire called for a ‘let’ when Sindhu served but Ruthvika appealed that she wasn’t ready — the second occasion earned her a warning from the chair umpire. Sensing that her opponent was exhausted, Sindhu mixed up the rallies — indulging in net play and forcing Ruthvika to lunge before playing the shuttle deep and killing the point with a smash.
“At that point I fell mentally down,” said the 2014 national champion. Still, there were moments when Ruthwika conjured deceiving drop smashes, followed by the full-blooded overhead version. And Sindhu struggled to return them. But Ruthwika soon ran out of steam. By the end of the match, Ruthwika was a shadow of herself but the 20-year-old gave glimpses of her potential when she gave Sindhu a fight in the first game. If this semifinal was a match-up between the establish star and a rising one, the final of the women’s singles is a classic — the trailblazer Saina Nehwal versus Sindhu. Nehwal beat Anura Prabhudesai 21-11 21-10.
Srikanth takes on Prannoy
In the men’s singles, World No.2 Kidambi Srikanth will face HS Prannoy. Seeded second here, Prannoy overcame Subhankar Dey 21-14, 21-17, while the top seed Srikanth outclassed Lakshya Sen 21-16, 21-18.
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