Ending a rollercoaster on a high – in the most literal sense – would call for a screaming red fire engine and long ladders to rescue those stranded at the vantage. That busy, noisy scene in a nutshell is PV Sindhu’s season this year. Except, the teenaged shuttler – India’s No 2 and World No 11 currently – is that rollercoaster, the screaming red engine, the long ladder and the stranded joyrider enjoying the view from the top – all rolled into one person. Dizzy and giggly all at once. She’s gotten herself into tangles on the badminton court this whole year, and wriggled out of trouble on her own; her shriek in victories just the same as her scream in defeat’s disgust.
It’s been that kind of 2014 for Sindhu who ended her badminton assignments with her first tournament title of the year, defending her crown at the Macau Open Grand Prix on Sunday. She beat upcoming Korean Kim Hyo Min, ranked outside of the 50s, 21-12, 21-17 in 45 minutes in the final. The frenetic pace and a mid-Set 2 wobble would be the only notably exciting take-aways from the day’s play. But for once Sindhu had won a high-stakes match this year with very little fuss. Though, she did manage to infuse drama into Macau when she trailed 7-17 in the decider against Indonesian Lindaweni Fanetri in Round 2 before extricating herself out with 9 straight points before eventually going on to win the title.
The 19-year-old has played 20 three-setters this year, most upwards of the 1 hour-mark, and been in at least a dozen match-point see-saw battles. She’s lost from the cusp of victory, and bounced back from seemingly hopeless situations.
Consistency’s not her hallmark yet, which is why she can be a World Championship bronze medallist within a month of going out to Li Michelle inexplicably at the CWG.
Because of the rollercoaster ride Sindhu’s been on this whole year, the Macau win stood out as near dull.
Turning out in a screaming yellow tee and shoes to match, Sindhu stayed relentless against the tournament’s giant-killer on final’s day. It was a flurry of smashes in the high-pitched battle from the attacking Indian, coupled with judicious use of high lifts given the drift on the court. Both players were happy to push the pace in frenzied rallies, and it was the greater experience of the pair of 19-year-olds and Sindhu’s abrasive attack that drowned the challenge of the Korean who couldn’t match strokes with intent.
No turning tables
Midway through the second, Hyo Min, who had beaten PC Thulasi at the Asiad with a similar blitz, opened up a 11-7 lead, but Sindhu came back stomping to win the next 5 points and nip in the bud any attempt by the Korean to turn tables. Sindhu prevailed in a long rally at 18-16 and ended the matter without further ado.
“She played very solid today. Almost a perfect match,” coach Gopichand said of the outcome from the flat exchanges between two offensive players, his ward clearly equipped with more firepower. Sindhu made her reach count repeatedly putting the Korean’s backhand under pressure, but it was the mid-court peppered with aggressive blocks and smashes that were enough to clinch her the title.
Sindhu has individual bronze medals from the Worlds, the CWG and the Asian Championships this season. She’s chipped in for team bronzes at Asian Games and made two GP finals, winning the last one. Some of those bronzes like at Glasgow ought to have been gold, and some of them like at the Worlds in Denmark were her punching above her weight, given she’s been between World No 9 – 12 this whole year and not crossed the quarters of Super Series in more than 12 months.
Need for consistency
So even while Gopichand’s relief is evident at the title being pocketed, he’s willing to bide his time with his unpredictable shuttler, who boasts of perhaps the widest array of strokes in India among the women’s singles players. “She could be more consistent. But given her physique and age, consistency’s tough. A few losses at 19 don’t surprise me. She’s had some great wins at Worlds and Asian championships and now Macau.”
It is the wildly attritional matches she’s played against the top shuttlers – losing many but never without a fight – that have earned a reputation of being a ferocious opponent. She’s prone to errors, but can also hit the shrill pitch, out-glare and over-power the best in the world with her attacking arsenal. The drama in matches featuring Sindhu (see box) stays constant as she swings between brilliant and bewilderingly pedestrian, even as she plays in a fashion that can even stress out neutrals.
“She’s been on an emotional rollercoaster with the way she’s played matches. But whenever there’s a bad result, she’s bounced back. It’s a learning curve, and her fight back against Wang Shixian (a 1 hr 26 min marathon) was brilliant,” coach says. It always keeps her opponents on the tenterhooks and guessing; coach Gopichand doesn’t mind he too is subjected to that nervy guesswork.