PV Sindhu set up an almighty clash of strong wills and stout hearts against the equally feisty Spanish World Champion Carolina Marin at the Denmark Open semifinals when she achieved the best result of this year on the Super Series circuit, wearing out Chinese Yihan Wang 21-18, 21-19 in the quarters.
Yihan’s never looked the same force of intimidation against Sindhu as she has against Saina Nehwal at the Chinese girl’s peak. And injuries and the resultant limitations in her game have punctured Yihan’s aggression much more than any opponent could. You can never rule the Chinese out of any mix, and the tall shuttler could start roaring and biting while sniping away with the shuttle once more, come Rio, but at the moment, she’s not the ferocious opponent that she was once.
So despite a head-to-head record of 1-4 prior to the last 8 clash at Odense on Friday, Sindhu (ranked No 13) would’ve fancied her chances against her first famous scalp – she beat Yihan on way to her first World Championship medal.
The 20-year-old Indian would eat up the court with her strides on Friday, and her quick lunges to the net would shut off all angles for Yihan to smash steep. Reading Yihan well, Sindhu would play at a scorching pace and add to the pressure picking the shuttle that crucial fraction of a second earlier. Combined with her hand speed, the Indian was looking imperious leading 20-11 in the opener. Some nervous excitement would allow Yihan to bounce back preying on errors, but it was at 20-18 that things got interesting.
Yihan with 7 straight points in the kitty was riding the momentum, when a long 20-odd shot rally tested Sindhu’s ability to close out he set. “Yihan was trying to finish the strokes jumping at everything, and I ensured I picked up everything, denying her the kill,” Sindhu would say later, dubbing it a crucial juncture. The rally continued a little longer than what was to Yihan’s comfort and she would blink first, hitting into the net. “Typically, leading at 20-18 you’d go for the easy shots. But Sindhu surprised me by just sticking on, digging her heels in that rally and playing hard.” Coach Arvind Bhat, said later.
At the Australian Open earlier this year, Sindhu had lost 28-26 in the third set against the former World Champ and Olympic silver medallist. “I’d lost then because I hadn’t been patient in defending and rushed tryig to finish the rally,” she recalls. On Friday at the Odense Sports Park, she would turn the tables on Yihan.
In the second set, the Hyderabadi would again keep the pot stirring. Leading 13-6, she would allow Yihan to close the gap at 19-all. “I’ve lost matches from these junctures before. Today I told myself never mind, focus on next point. After 20-19, she hit out.”
Long rallies at the death are something of a PV Sindhu speciality now. Though she’s always loved the protracted ending, even when she beat the Chinese the first time around winning 21-19, 22-20. It’s a tease she plays out with much drama sprinkled into it, but increasingly for results in her favour.
She certainly doesn’t start as a favourite against Carolina Marin, though it promises to be a titanic match if Sindhu can maintain her rhythm and pace from Friday.
More than Yihan, beating Taipese Tai Tzu Ying and negating her mix of deception and strokeplay was satisfying for Sindhu having never cracked the deceptive maze of the talented Tai Tzu earlier.
“Sindhu has nothing to lose,” coach Madhumita Bist points out. Though, a maiden Super Series final could be up for grabs if she can get past the reigning World Champ, a combustible figure who has all the strokes, plays at a fair clip herself and is additionally left-handed.
“Marin is somewhere between Tai Tzu and Yihan in what to expect, and with the very fast pace,” Bhat says.
The only time Sindhu beat Marin was at Maldives when both were relatively unknown.
There’s been three thrashings post that. But if there’s one player that the Danish crowd can expect to down Marin (and her screeching celebrations) it is Sindhu, fiery in her own way.
Coaches reckon she’ll need to keep the scores close and not allow Marin to run away with leads if she has to stand a chance. The Chinese struggle with slow shuttles, but both Sindhu and Marin render it irrelevant with the way they go about stamping control on the games. “How Sindhu can convert her defense into sudden attacks against Marin will be crucial,” Bhat says, though giving the Indian a “good 40-60 chance.”
“We’re playing after a long time, and I have been wishing to play against her for some time now,” Sindhu said. There wont be cakewalks, neither wilting flowers on the court on what will be a very belligerent Saturday.