It was a 13 x 8.5 square feet area either side of the net where all the drama was centred in the Indonesian Open Super 1000 semifinal. China’s top contender Chen Yufei was trying to catch PV Sindhu on the forehand lunge at the front of the court, while Sindhu was aiming for just across the net on Chen’s backhand forecourt.
It was while defending her 6.5×8.5 patch relentlessly (every player from Tai Tzu-Ying to Nozomi Okuhara to Carolina Marin loves drawing her forward on a scramble) that the Indian, ranked World No. 5, took apart the World No. 3 Chinese woman’s game.
With her Plan A of exploiting Sindhu’s vulnerability failing, and the Indian looming on the court with the 5ft11’s ferocious reach, Chen went wildly for the corners and sprayed the shuttle all over giving Sindhu a bunch of points in errors and a 21-19, 21-10 win on her second straight day of brutal rampage. In the quarters on Friday, Sindhu had chomped into Nozomi Okukhara 21-(eye-popping)7 in the second game. On Saturday, the Chinese was demolished with a near-perfect game of offence sprinkled on a bed of defence.
The Indian, who recently turned 24, has defined her career with top performances at the big events. She plays Akane Yamaguchi, an opponent whom she’s beaten 10 times in 14 attempts, in the final though the Japanese won the last tournament final they contested at Dubai in 2017.
Indonesia has a bit of a charm for Indians as Saina Nehwal has won the title three times (from four finals) – India’s first Super Series crown coming 10 years ago. Moreover, Sindhu’s first serious title in seniors – a Grade 4 event – had come at Surabaya in 2011.
“It is the first final this year so I hope I don’t miss out on the opportunity and can get the gold. Ups and downs are always there. I have learnt from my mistakes and have come back much stronger,” she said later.
Sindhu won’t be too fussed about the lack of titles in the pre-Olympic year – she’s always stepped up at the prestigious medal events, and will be content with the China, Korea, India and World Tour Finals titles she’s collected in her career. But Indonesia would be a nice box to tick.
Going into the final, Sindhu’s form looks ominous. She trailed 14-18 (after a 5-point flurry from 3-8 to 9-8) in the opener. But a second surge of five straight points for 19-18 was when she started dismantling Chen – a clever and stubborn player on most days with strokes and strength. Bull-headed in her own defence, Sindhu wasn’t slashing hard at this point, but showing variations as she clasped the first game.
There were spectacular strokes in the second in that 6.5×8.5 forecourt minefield, a cross-court half-smash that looped short, a drop-flick from mid-court and a proper tight cross-court at the net, the kind Kidambi Srikanth and Saina play with aplomb, but which Sindhu reserves for occasions when she’s bullish at the net.
From attempting to catch Sindhu – a plan in vain as the Indian’s defence stayed compact – Chen, who is sure-footed in her lunges, was found wanting in her own net defence.
But it was in the face of Sindhu’s assured retrieving that Chen was forced to go for the lines like a disoriented flapping pigeon, as no part of the court seemed safe against the towering Indian. Chen’s errors ballooned as she hit most returns wide, and at 18-9 Sindhu increased her hand-speed to resemble a slashing blade. The unflappable Chen was blown dry in straight games.
“The points at the end of the first game were very important to me. Even though I was trailing, I did not think it was over. It was definitely an advantage for me to take the first game. In the second game, it was then pretty easy,” she told BWF.
National coach Pullela Gopichand said Sindhu’s defence, which frustrated Chen who was hoping the Indian could be ruffled, was the key.
“She looked solid and in control. She’s physically in good shape and of course, the defence in the second game was fantastic – something which has really helped her be solid and crack Chen Yufei,” he said.
“Overall, a fantastic victory. I think she played well both yesterday and today. The way she’s playing, hopefully we’ll have a good final tomorrow,” he added.
Sindhu’s sights are set on the Olympics and she knows fitness will be all-important, not necessarily the finery of circuit titles. “It is equally important that you keep yourself fit as well as perform at the tournaments. If you stay fit, you will automatically perform well. There’s only one year to the Olympics so every tournament is equally important and for me it’s just step by step,” Sindhu said.
Beating the pugnacious Yamaguchi on Sunday is the absolute first step.