P V SINDHU claimed the fifth Chinese scalp of her World Championships career on way to an assured bronze medal on Friday — a stunning third podium at the annual meet. She has beaten Yihan Wang, Xuerui Li, Shixian Wang from the earlier generation and current top-ranked Sun Yu till date, and faces the latest Chinese hope, 19-year-old Chen Yufei, in Saturday’s semifinal, while attempting to win silver or gold and go one better at Glasgow.
On Friday, the 22-year-old Olympic silver medallist outclassed Sun Yu 21-14, 21-9 in the quarterfinals, ensuring that she’s never lost to a Chinese at the Worlds. The 39-minute romp saw the 6’1” Chinese left clueless while facing a barrage of sliced drops and half-smashes.
It was unarguably the weakest opponent among those she has evicted from the Worlds while winning medals in 2013, 2014 and now in 2017. Sindhu led throughout the match — placed 11-4 at both breaks — and the most the battle got animated was during the high tosses. Sindhu read Sun’s overhead angles easily and the few half-hearted body-smashes launched as counters ended up with the Indian striking back in kind, and to better effect.
It started at around 18-11 when the towering Sun first targeted a smash awkwardly at Sindhu’s body. Sindhu retrieved them frantically, and then began to attack Sun’s body — when not smashing, then with crosscourt sharp shots at the net.
It was a comprehensive display in ensuring what has become a consistent medal for the Hyderabadi at the Worlds, though she runs into Yufei, who defeated the Indian the last time they met. India’s performance at the World Championships has been steady in the last seven years. Starting with Jwala Gutta-Ashwini Ponappa in 2011, Indian women have won medals in every single edition, with Saina Nehwal picking silver in 2015. Indians also boast medals at the last two Olympics in 2012 and 2016.
India’s steady rise has contrasted with China’s dip at the two last big events — the giants did not win a medal at both the 2015 Worlds, or at the 2016 Olympics, a unimaginable proposition till a few years ago in women’s singles. For Sindhu, this bronze cements her place as one of India’s highest achieving athletes internationally in successive years.
“I went on the court thinking I need to give my best and play my game. Last time I played her I lost in Dubai. It wasn’t easy and each point was important to me, even although I was leading,” she said. Sindhu had played a marathon 86-minute match in the pre-quarterfinals, and stressed that she was up to the challenge while ensuring the medal. “I was prepared. I went back immediately and recovered and rested well. Even though it was a long match, you tend to get used to it. In big tournaments, I have played many long matches,” she said.
Sun was expected to be a stiff roadblock in Sindhu’s way of an encore in Guangzhou 2013 and Copenhagen 2014, but the Indian ended up looking too strong for the Chinese who has struggled to match up to the achievements of her seniors.
Pei Zhu, a Chinese badminton journalist with SNTV, insists that the country was facing a rare crisis of talent and is only aiming for the Tokyo Olympics. “Sun Yu wasn’t considered strong enough for Sindhu. The badminton association is looking to 2020 and is patient with the results with the current lot. Even Chen Yufei is not very well-known because she’s yet to prove herself at the Asian Games, Worlds or Olympics even if she’s beaten Sindhu already. Saina Nehwal was seen as India’s No.1 when she challenged the Chinese at the London Games, and now it’s Sindhu,” he said.
For Sindhu, Saturday will be a good day to revise a couple of chapters of history — improving the colour of the medal at the Worlds, and undoing the below-par performance the last time she was in Glasgow. Expected to win gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2014, Sindhu had to settle for bronze.
A third World championship medal would also be a good trade-off for a player who was barred from eating chocolates and icecream as a child. “Once we realised it would lead to a cold, we never allowed her to eat that. In badminton, you need to breathe strongly,” said mother Vijaya, who is by Sindhu’s side in Glasgow, hoping for a gold.