There’s coaches and physios to take care of the little things in life — like strategizing to beat the World Champion and plotting behind the scenes to take you to your first Super Series final. And then there was the mother: to smile through all the chaos surrounding PV Sindhu as she beat three outstanding players in Tai Tzu Ying, Yihan Wang and on Saturday, the ferocious Spaniard Carolina Marin, and then to sort out the crucial dinner when her quarterfinal would finish well into Friday midnight and there would be no food to feed the championship contender at that hour. Odense in Denmark shuts shops at 6 pm, and food takeaways at around 10. There were fruits somewhere in the room and a Chinese takeaway brought by the teammates. But Sindhu craved spice and tang. So, mum would go in search of rice, and open the mango pickle jar back at the hotel room.
Next day, PV Sindhu would down the indomitable Carolina Marin.
It is a giant step forward for the looming Indian shuttler, who is now beginning to pull her weight — more so her height, as she made her first ever Super Series Premier final, just a few months after a long injury break. There’s Li Xuerui, the Chinese Olympic champion waiting in the finals, but those tags have long stopped intimidating the 20-year-old who has been consistently chomping away at the Chinese big names.
But Marin was a different beast to tackle — with her frenzied pace and on-court antics.
Sindhu would play at a non-satisfactory pace for two-thirds of the match: she would hold onto the first set lead to pocket the opener, and then allow the pesky Spaniard to level the sets soon enough. Yet, it was evident that Sindhu had the shots to trouble Marin and an attitude that typically out-annoys the world champion. Known on the circuit for her roaring war-cries that amuse some but annoy many, Marin doesn’t like someone talking back to her with the whizzing shuttle: Sindhu would do just that, give it back, even though her floating pace was something Marin was nicely warming upto.
Standing tall upto her almost 6 feet frame, and refusing to bow except when she needed in her low defense of Marin’s busy-bee attack, Sindhu would win the 1 hour 15 minute encounter 21-15, 18-21, 21-17, by upturning the pace and surprising Marin.
But first up it was sheer safety-play that earned Sindhu her first set cushioning. She would retrieve well, wait for the Spaniard’s typical impetuous errors and cling onto the lead in the opener. As Marin was beginning to shake herself out of her fidgetiness and test Sindhu’s forecourt low defense on the backhand, the Indian would show intent. There were long unblinking rallies with some unbelievable retrieves and racquet-work that would do a doubles player proud of the reflexes from both girls. And even though Marin would win the point, the Indian was prepping to stick it out and deny easy winners to her opponent.
Marin was attacking Sindhu’s ribs and the Indian knew it, but would take some time to summon the answers.
At 12-9 in the decider, Marin seemed to be on her way to another wrap-up. Except, at 11-9 the changeover, Sindhu would be told by the coaches for the dozenth time that her pace was just not good enough to trouble the Spaniard.
She would switch gears at 12-9, and start hitting the hard, sharp power shots — not a mean feat with all the exhaustion setting in. Sindhu would summon some lethal power to play the whip shots from back of her head and at the net — in a move that would boggle Marin and completely unsettle her. The blitzkrieg was on in Odense.
The first time her lashing push would miss the mark, but thrice in the closing stages, Sindhu’s whacking push from mid-court would travel like a bullet beyond Marin’s ability to intercept it.
The mere audacity to come back from 11-15 down in the decider was enough to rattle Marin who Sindhu was beating for the first time since the two acquired any sort of reputation. She would stutter a shade at 20-16, mutter something to herself at 20-17, and then kill the next rally in a hurry in a throwback to her teenage year — not so long ago.
“I just decided I had had enough, so I killed the shuttle last point,” she would say later.
The safe game was enough to drag proceedings into the decider but it was never going to earn her Marin’s scalp. “If I’d played safe, she would have attacked me. I’ve lost to her thrice in recent times. I was losing some points but I knew I was giving it back and fighting till the point was actually lost. Maybe she didn’t like that,” Sindhu would muse later. Earlier, coach Madhumita Bisht had drilled into her that Marin’s loud guttural celebrations on the court were in fact a sign of nervousness. “I told her if she screams, you also scream. But stay calm within,” the coach would laugh later.
At 11-15, Sindhu recalls shaking herself out of the reverie. “I told myself I couldn’t let it go easily.” Her resolve might have been sturdy, but it needed immense physical strength too to play the power shots at that juncture. “We’ve worked a lot on her body strengthening in the three months she was injured,” physio Kiran would say. Sindhu is quite amused by her injury — not the ankle or the heel, but the top of the foot, but it ensured she got herself an “offseason” in which to work on building a tougher core.
Always tipped for greatness, Sindhu’s aura will be built around how tall and strong she is across the court to opponents. Combined with that is her natural strokes. Li Xuerui will be a challenge given her experience. “It’ll be a tough match, but I’ll prepare for it well,” she says.
However Denmark Open will be significant for the two wins against stroke-makers that Sindhu has managed — Tai Tzu and Marin. The young Indian would earlier struggle against tricky and deceptive players. However in accounting for both of them this week with her court movement and scorching pace in matching their ticking brains, Sindhu has already crossed another hurdle.
“I cried today for the first time after her match. Somehow the tension of beating Marin was there,” her mother would say. Then she would rush to settle the Chinese takeaway.