PV Sindhu made history for Indian badminton when she reached the final of the women’s singles event after beating Nozomi Okuhara 21-19, 21-10 in the semi-final and assure herself and country of a silver medal. This will be the first time India will have a silver place finish in badminton after Saina Nehwal had notched a bronze in the London Olympics four years back.
2120 hrs IST: SINDHU WINS IT! SHE’S INTO THE FINAL! SMASHES IT IN AND WINS 21-19, 21-10!
2119 hrs IST: TEN MATCH POINTS!
2119 hrs IST: Two points to go! Sindhu with a lovely drop shot and it is match point!
2118 hrs IST: Okuhara nets the shot and Sindhu has now won an incredible nine points in a row
2116 hrs IST: Sindhu continues with her march now. Pushing Okuhara side-to-side before putting away for a winner. 16-10
2115 hrs IST: Sindhu with incredible attacking play now on her backhand to put away a shot at the net. 14-10
2112 hrs IST: Sindhu’s push at the net is just in. Very close that. 11-10 up in the second game
2111 hrs IST: Once again, Sindhu makes a mistake on a loopy shot at the net. Hit into the net. 10-10
2111 hrs IST: Sindhu with beautiful disguise on the drop and Okuhara sends backhand wide. 10-9 to Sindhu
2110 hrs IST: Service error by Sindhu and it is back square. 9-9
2110 hrs IST: Sindhu with lovely angled drop shot and she is once again in the lead at 9-8
2109 hrs IST: Okuhara’s shot is in the middle of the court and it is there for the taking. Duly put away by Sindhu. 8-8
2108 hrs IST: Sindhu with an unforced error. Had the point for the taking but nets it! 8-7 to the Japanese
2108 hrs IST: Fierce smash by Sindhu on Okuhara’s backhand and it isn’t returned. 7-7
2107 hrs IST: Sindhu with a well placed smash angled across and Okuhara can’t read that. 7-6
2107 hrs IST: PV Sindhu’s attempt down the line is just wide. 7-5 to Okuhara now
2105 hrs IST: Sindhu with great smashes and its all even 5-5
2104 hrs IST: Lucky let chord for Sindhu and that ends the run of five. 5-4
2104 hrs IST: Five straight points for the Japanese as Sindhu makes unforced errors. Down 5-3
2103 hrs IST: Lovely defensive work by Okuhara and she has it all even. Sindhu nets a rushed backhand 3-3
2103 hrs IST: PV Sindhu starts on a good positive note to lead 3-0
2056 hrs IST: Okuhara’s smash is into the top of the net and PV Sindhu takes the first game 21-19
2055 hrs IST: Sindhu possibly hit a shot that was going out and Okuhara wins the point. Goes into open court. 20-19
2054 hrs IST: Okuhara with a mistake at the net and game points Sindhu. 20-18
2054 hrs IST: Great flick of the racket at the last second by Okuhara to play disguised drop. 19-18
2053 hrs IST: Sindhu with an angled smash across and she leads 19-17
2052 hrs IST: Huge support for Sindhu in Rio. Lots of yelling of India, India!
2051 hrs IST: Sindhu with great defensive play to return a smash and then deliver her own. 18-15
2051 hrs IST: Okuhara sends smash into Sindhu’s body and the lead is reduced. 17-15
2051 hrs IST: Okuhara with an odd smash mistake after Sindhu misjudged serve. 17-14
2050 hrs IST: Sindhu makes a mistake on the backhand – rushing a little too much. 16-14 up though
2050 hrs IST: Sindhu with two glorious drop shots – one is picked but not the next. 16-13
2049 hrs IST: Two errors in a row by Sindhu and the lead is down to two points. 15-13
2048 hrs IST: Sindhu with a gorgeous drop shot to control the racket head. 15-11
2048 hrs IST: Sindhu’s smash is just wide of the line and into the tramlines. 14-11
2047 hrs IST: Okuhara once again nets a deep shot. Sindhu is in the lead now by 14-10
2046 hrs IST: Okuhara nets a deep shot and Sindhu is up 13-10
2046 hrs IST: Okuhara once again forcing Sindhu to make a loopy return at the net and dispatched quickly. 12-10
2044 hrs IST: Short reply by Sindhu and Okuhara is quickly on to it. And it inches inside. 12-9 to the Indian
2043 hrs IST: Great point with both players going back and forward before luck of the net helps Sindhu win the point. 12-8
2042 hrs IST: Sheer pace in Okuhara’s angled smash and Sindhu can’t reply to that. 11-8
2042 hrs IST: Sindhu made to go back on a deep shot and its into the net. 11-7
2040 hrs IST: Okuhara sends push of the shuttle long and Sindhu leads 11-6 at the break
2039 hrs IST: Sindhu with a great smash as she moves back and keeps the margin going. Desperate lunge by the Japanese but not enough to send it back. 10-6
2038 hrs IST: Lovely tactics by Sindhu to push Okuhara back and then produce a lovely drop. 9-6 now
2038 hrs IST: Sindhu’s attempted drop shot is into the net and the lead for the Indian is down to two. 8-6
2037 hrs IST: Poor response by Sindhu on a Okuhara drop and it is duly dispatched for a smash. 8-5
2036 hrs IST: Great drop shot by Sindhu and Okuhara can’t send it back. Leads 8-4
2035 hrs IST: Okuhara hits the net and Sindhu with a huge shout of C’mon. 7-4 up now
2035 hrs IST: Good push of the shuttle by Sindhu and she leads 5-3
2034 hrs IST: Poor judgement by Sindhu and Okuhara’s serve lands in. 3-4 now
2034 hrs IST: Sindhu with a great early start. Using her racket head exceptionally to return a shot back. 4-1
2028 hrs IST: PV Sindhu on court for her semi-final match against Nozomi Okuhara
1927 hrs IST: Some good wishes from Gautam Gambhir too
1926 hrs IST: PV Sindhu’s father: “Entire India is watching,its very tense. I thank everyone for their wishes”
1909 hrs IST: Sindhu has the wishes of the entire nation with her
1848 hrs IST: Li Xuerui clearly unable to move and Marin wins 21-14, 21-16. Through to Gold medal match!
1842 hrs IST: Uh-Oh! Li Xuerui is down and needs attention by the medics. Marin is up 18-16 in the second. Awkward landing for the Chinese player and it looks serious
1815 hrs IST: In the first semi-final, Carolina Marin of Spain has won the first game 21-14 against Li Xuerui of China
It’s new-age India’s new genes that are finally pushing the country towards a medal at the 2016 Olympics. Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, regally rangy at 179 cm (5’10.5”), born to tall, athletic parents from Hyderabad, is spreading her wings — or wingspan — marching towards a medal after she beat Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying and Chinese Yihan Wang in successive straight-set matches.
Next, she runs into Nozomi Okuhara (barely 5 feet, but tremendously consistent and intrepid), and is expected to use her vertical advantage to bring down the Japanese and assure herself at least a silver medal in Rio.
In the process, she has denied China, a country in constant, obsessive search of tall shuttlers to replace the old bunch, a chance at two medals for the first time since 1996.
It’s for the first time in 20 years that China will not occupy two spots on the medals podium at the Olympics. After four Olympics of double-domination (either the gold-silver of 2008-2012, or the gold-bronze of 2000-2004), China will have only reigning champ Li Xuerui in medal contention, and Sindhu, considered a supremely dangerous player due to her ferocious attacking game and steep smashing, is responsible for removing the second Chinese contender — World No. 2 Yihan Wang.
Skill, talent and languid grace make badminton beautiful, but it’s long been a contention of the Chinese that the most all-round games can only come off racquets of tall players — with the necessary stamina and agility. It brought the country rich returns in 2004 and 2008 when the almost 6-footers Zhang Ning, Xie Xingfang and Zhou Mi medalled at the Olympics, and the country has since been in search of tall players to reclaim that glory.
At London, they won with Xuerui and Yihan — not as tall but above average — but China’s fielding of Sun Yu (almost 6’1”) at maximum international meets means the project of specific selection has not been dumped.
At the same time, along came Sindhu in India, a long-legged athletic girl whose parents were both former volleyball players (6’3” and 5’8”). Though she shot up in height only after Class IX, Pullela Gopichand had seen potential in grooming her, and maxing her set of blessed genes, and has worked tremendously hard in supplementing the natural reach that helps in strokes with the necessary agility, to shape her into a dangerous player on the international circuit.
Against Okuhara, the hard-running, persistent Japanese who has won a bunch of titles, including Japan’s first All-England in 39 years, and is extremely consistent, Sindhu starts as a favourite, thanks to her height and the form that she is in currently.
Okuhara has beaten Sindhu in all past three meetings, most recently this February, but Sindhu has morphed into a lethal threat for the Japanese given her focussed work on fitness and agility that have added sting to her height.
The Chinese had sound reasons to go looking for tall girls to shape them into badminton players: a tall game is perceived as a natural threat to start with. Former international Aravind Bhat, whose admittedly modest game became magnified and earned him some memorable wins owing to his 6’2” frame, says Sindhu has a bright chance against the Japanese, and her height will be a key factor.
“You have to understand height intimidates Asian players. I have had so many players in my life come up to me and say, ‘So tall, so tall — smash hard, smash hard,” he says about the advantage of perception.
Sindhu’s wingspan, easily over 6 feet, gives her an arcing reach on her overhead shots — her straight tosses and cross-court smashes hit at a high contact point when shuttle connects to racquet, making it worrisome for most opponents when combined with high speed.
Moreover, every badminton court these days has drift owing to air-conditioning, and Rio has a cross drift. “The first few points are always tough to judge, and shuttles tend to go short and shuttles go to mid-court — and are sitters for tall players to smash out. The fear of the mid-court can get instilled in players and stay through the game,” Bhat says.
Against Yihan Wang, the tall Chinese, a fair amount of Sindhu’s agility, like digging out reflex shots, got negated because the shuttle was also coming back from a steep angle. But the 21-year-old Indian will fancy her chances against Okuhara.
The Japanese, who reached a career high of No. 3, has a high backhand drive shot which she plays with her elbow facing down to the back end of the court, and is a master of changing pace and the bird’s trajectory. But she is tactically vulnerable against tall players (as the Chinese have exploited) and Sindhu would need to park herself at three-quarters of the court and dictate the steep, cross-court winners from there — something her opponent has few answers to.
It could be a commanding march into the finals if Sindhu can stay consistent and maintain her speed. A medal beckons if she can stay in the long game — the Japanese tends to be tireless in long matches that last over two hours, retrieving everything and making opponents play one shot extra to get the winners. It’ll be a wonderful maiden Olympics for the Indian, who caused ripples in her early World Championships — beating high ranked opponents with her fast game.
It can also erase years of belief that Indians are too short-statured to win big at Olympics. As diets have improved in the country and general health has gone up, Indians are more confident coming up against the big guys at world meets. A medal for Sindhu here, and India, which has zero medals so far, can also walk tall.
PV Sindhu takes on Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in the women’s singles semi-finals with a win ensuring a medal for India – their second after Sakshi Malik got a bronze in the women’s freestyle wrestling event. After overcoming the stiff challenge of Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying and China’s Wang Yihan in the previous rounds – winning in straight games – the Indian shuttler from Hyderabad has another top shuttler in her sights.
With Sindhu’s win over Wang, she has denied China – a badminton superpower a two medal finish in the women’s singles event – for the first time since 1996.
Here’s a quick look at how the two pan out against each other:
PV Sindhu (Age 21, World Rank 10) against Nozomi Okuhara (Age 21, World Rank 6)
Height: PV Sindhu at 179cm and Nozomi Okuhara at 155cm
Played 4: Nozomi Okuhara 3, PV Sindhu 1
Matches between the two have always been hard-fought affairs with each one going to three games. Okuhara has won the last three encounters between the two. Sindhu’s only win came as a junior in the 2012 Asian Championships
Nozomi Okuhara’s playing style
Nozomi Okuhara has the typically Japanese high intensity retrieving game. However she also has the ability to dictate the action with clever early changes of pace. she also deceptively varies shuttle trajectory between high and deep clears and flat cross-court drives. Her signature stroke is the backhand high drive produced with the elbow facing low, making it particularly difficult to read.
PV Sindhu’s advantages
PV Sindhu has lost on the last three occasions she has played Okuhara. The Japanese’ relentless intensity has proved tough to negotiate. However in her match against Yihan, Sindhu showed remarkable fitness that should make Okuhara less of a challenge. Sindhu’s height is also a massive advantage for her. As long as she stays around the three quarter court area, she doesn’t need to take a back step to Okuhara’s clears and can hit her own steep winners across court.
Road to Semis
beat Laura Sarosi 21-8, 21-9
beat Michelle Li 19-21, 21-15, 21-17
beat Tai Tzu-ying 21-13, 21-15
beat wang Yihan 22-20, 21-19
beat Vu Thi Trang 21-10, 21-8
beat Lindaweni Fanetri 21-12, 21-12
beat Bae Yeon-ju 21-6, 21-7
beat Akane Yamaguchi 11-21, 21-17, 21-10