Updated: January 29, 2021 7:49:56 am
There was a year-long phase in PV Sindhu’s career right before the 2016 Olympics when she wasn’t winning titles – or matches even. Not even the yearly World Championship medal – of which she has 5 now. But she played the most entertaining and exacting games on the women’s circuit, all engaging battles without silverware except her mandatory season-ending lower tier title at Macau.
These were hard-fought three setters – some 20 such thrillers – including 12 match-point see-saw situations (19-all in the third) all going upwards of the 1-hr mark. It was nothing to write home about, except it was the nuts and bolts groundwork for the Rio silver medal.
Consistency in winning might not be the best indicator of what unfolds heading into the Games, but consistency in fighting is definitely a good harbinger. And so, Kidambi Srikanth can reference those pages from Sindhu’s tale as he himself processes back-to-back 77 minute matches these last two days, where he’s fought impressively but not won.
On Thursday in his second pool game against Chinese Taipei’s Wang Tzu Wei at the World Tour Finals, Srikanth was up against an attacking player, simultaneously wary of and determined to not let Srikanth dictate. “I was happy I didn’t make it easy for him to do what he wanted,” Wang would say after a 19-21, 21-9, 21-19 victory over the Indian, that assured him that he had tamed a dangerous player.
For Srikanth, coming off an isolation stint and a rough start to Thailand, his un-slumped shoulders till the end pointed to a steel in his resolve that’s been missing for quite some time. His smashing errors – he sent the last one wide after narrowing the gap from 16-20 to 19-20 – remain a major concern. And they’ll haunt him till he starts reversing the scorelines. But for once, the tame submissions, the sulking face is gone. Replaced by an angry caged man who is constantly scratching at tunnels to effect a jailbreak.
“I have to figure out a way to pull out these close matches. I was dominating him for most part of third game. I think it’s about match practice, playing against top players continuously. We haven’t played for a year, and before that I wasn’t playing against top eight players continuously. I feel I’m almost there. After 15-all or 16-all it’s a matter of a few points,” Srikanth said.
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Wang is a combative opponent, trained by the Chinese 1983 All England legend Luan Jin, who’s ventured out for stints in Singapore and Hong Kong. When Wang was 18 and upcoming, he was fined according to Badminton Planet, for not adhering to brand name on the apparel. To shell out the fine so he could keep playing, his parents worked doubly hard selling meat buns in a night market. The hunger to prove himself remains intact all these years later. Against Srikanth, Wang’s strategy he later would say was all about “don’t let him dictate.”
For Srikanth was imperious when he broke away at 8-all, constructing points using every inch of the court for his winners. He had both the backhand cross sliced drops, and even the immensely difficult backhand down the line winners to corner the first set 21-19.
He even bent the shuttle beautifully as it curved back to fall right on the side line to cause misjudgement to clinch the set.
While retrieves went corner to corner, Srikanth would watch the second set slide. While the decider saw plenty of eyeball confrontations in net exchanges – both playing dribbles well, Srikanth was teasing out errors by now. Except, he was making plenty of his own at the same time.
Wang, not one to give up, would sharpen his offense and stay focussed when smashing, while Srikanth floundered over-hitting the smashes. Coach Park hopped over to the Sindhu match, as trainer C Kiran took the coach’s chair relaying precise advice. He saved three match points, but capitulated on the fourth.
The effort was more than what Srikanth had been putting in the last three injury plagued seasons. It wasn’t enough to earn him the semis berth. But noone would fault the sincerity of his fight. Qualification for Olympics begins in March, and Srikanth will draw hope from the fight while the hunger stays intact.
PV Sindhu was totally off colour after leading 11-6 in the opener, before she lost 21-18, 21-13 to Ratchanok. With two losses in as many days, she failed to qualify for the semifinals after Tai Tzu Ying slumped against Pornpawee Chochuwong, sending the Indian out.
“It wasn’t my day. Losing the first game made the difference. My timing was a bit off, so a bit disappointed,” she said.
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