India’s badminton superstar PV Sindhu has an enviable collection of medals that is full of silver but even greater is the promise she holds each time she enters the court. On Tuesday, she can finally fulfil that with India’s first-ever badminton gold medal from the Asian Games.
A lot is at stake for India in the badminton final, but there is more at stake for Sindhu, the player. India needs a gold but Sindhu needs a win even more.
So, Sindhu will not only be fighting to win India’s first-ever gold medal in badminton, but will also be fighting to get rid of the demons in her mind.
The hoped-for all India final at the Asian Games women’s badminton did not happen. Saina Nehwal lost, but PV Sindhu did win and she will now try and bring that elusive badminton gold for India.
World No 1 Tai Tzu Ying put out former World No 1 Saina Nehwal in straight games 21-17, 21-14 in just under 35 minutes and a little later, World No. 3 Sindhu quelled a strong challenge from World No 2 Akane Yamaguchi in three hard-fought games 21-17, 15-21, 21-10 in 65 minutes to enter another major final in her young career.
In the final Sindhu will take on Tai Tzu-ying, who holds a huge 9-3 head-to-head advantage against her. The last time Sindhu beat the Chinese (TPE) was at the Olympics en route to the final.
What Sindhu will need to keep in mind is that if she has not won an Olympic, a World Championship or an Asian Games gold, neither has Tai Tzu-ying.
Sindhu’s losses in the finals beginning with the Olympic Games in Rio to the World Championships in Nanjing this year are too obvious to miss. She lost in the finals of the Olympics (to Carolina Marin) and Commonwealth Games (to Saina Nehwal) and twice in the World Championships (in 2017 to Nozomi Okuhara and in 2018 to Carolina Marin). She also lost a Super Series final to Yamaguchi. She has lost a few other finals on BWF’s Tour events, but then she also won a dozen events on the tour.
Is there a mental barrier that keeps Sindhu from achieving what she can?
At the All-England this year, Sindhu beat Nozomi Okuhara in the semis but lost to Carolina Marin in the final. So, Sindhu does know about “the final stumble” and admitted after the All-England, saying, “Sometimes I find that when I hit out or tap into the net, when you actually have to get points (meaning finishing the point), I lose confidence and I get nervous. So, they (her coaches) tell me, ‘let it be, it’s over’. I am trying to practice that and it is getting better.”
There could be many reasons for that. One reason could be that Sindhu gets drawn into long rallies because she does not or is not able to finish rallies. Players like Yamaguchi and Okuhara are defensive and love long rallies and wait for the rival to make a mistake and invariably it is the opponent who does it, because they themselves are like retrieving machines. In contrast, Tai Tzu-ying, who has a 9-3 record against Sindhu is a mix of tight defence and fine aggression, who is adept at ‘finishing’ points and not let them linger on.
Another thing that may go against Sindhu is the number of long matches she has played. Despite her amazing fitness, that could be a factor against Tai Tzu-ying.
In five matches at these Games, Sindhu has been taken to three games four times and the only straight win was against Yamaguchi 21-18, 21-19 in the League match of the team event, which India lost 1-3.
Also worth noting is that in each of the four matches that she won in three games, Sindhu won the first but lost the second, indicating an inability to finish a match in three games. That has been her story in many other events.
Others like former India international, and one-time coach of Saina Nehwal, Vimal Kumar, recently opined that many players have figured out Sindhu. So, she must develop the ability to finish faster, work on deceptive half smashes and not allow her rivals to feed on her pace.
On Monday Saina Nehwal, after losing to Tai said, “This tournament is as good as Olympics, just that we do not have [Olympic and reigning world champion] Carolina [Marin] here.”
As for Tai Tzu-ying, she said, “She has a complete game where you don’t know where to play her and where to get the points, I was really confused there. You have to be alert with her. I tried to do (that) but she has all kind of shots, even if you put her in difficult position, she comes out of it. You have to have the game to beat her, to properly plan. The World Championship and the (Asian) Games were quite close, so we did not have enough time to prepare but I tried.”
Sindhu, after her win over Yamaguchi was asked about Tzu-ying and she admitted, “It is not going to be an easy match. Definitely I hope I do well. In the finals, there is some strategy against her but it is just that you have to give your best and you have to keep changing (plans) accordingly.”
Keep your fingers crossed.
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