Singapore Open: PV Sindhu roars in Lion City
When PV Sindhu grinned brightly post winning the Singapore Open defeating Chinese Zhi Yi Wang, and refrained from gushing, calling the Super 500 title “just the start”, it signalled the most realistic perspective from an athlete aware of belonging to the higher echelons and firmly on the upswing in confidence.
The onset of July and August has historically proven a harbinger of the former World Champion’s peaking at the biggest tournaments – whether the Olympics or Worlds. And for someone who’s been in three World Championship finals and one at the Olympics, an easy Singapore Open Super 500 victory could only count as a good injection of confidence, a five-match-week paced perfectly, before the real battles fetch up – this time at the Tokyo Worlds.
VIP congratulatory tweets cannot discern between a Sunday spent downing a pugnacious 22-year-old Chinese in a fisticuff final after a week of negotiating past pesky unseeded opponents and a Sunday battle-hardened, scar-riven and ice bath-soaked from taking out fellow Top Tenners. She might not have won a big title for three years now – not that Sindhu craved the smaller ones ever – but the swag of the World Champion from Basel, the muscle memory of rising to the pinnacle scything stacked fields, is firmly intact in the towering Indian.
A 21-9, 11-21, 21-15 victory with two lopsided games, and a decider that the World No. 7 cleverly controlled at the clutch, pointed to settled nerves and a calmer court presence, that sets her up nicely for bigger battles that’ll demand she keep her head during tricky phases of play. Not that Sindhu needs reminding, but the title restores belief she can lord over opponents, after some bruising losses in the past few months.
Metaphorically and literally, Sindhu read the winds, gauged the backline judgments, trained her peripheral vision to the flying bird’s whimsy idiosyncrasies better than at any tournament in 2022, at Singapore where she picked her first Super 500 title. The decorated Indian has traversed global arenas all these years, and not once complained about the a/c- induced drift ever costing her a match. As such, Sindhu is India’s best all-court, all-conditions player over the years, unfazed by shuttle speeds. Perhaps from an itchy lack of confidence, the last few tournaments since the Asian Championship had seen her wrestle and wrangle uncharacteristically with line calls and Hawk-Eye judgments, impacting her poise on court, and costing her matches even.
At Singapore, Sindhu was spot on with her referrals through the week, and solidly aware of shuttle flight. Even more impressive was how her crosscourt game was neatly curated to neutralize the drift. She eschewed the straight, floating, baseline-kissing tosses and wildly transgressing smashes, and smartly deployed the short cross, angled drops from the forecourt to allow the shuttle to fall within bounds and not unnecessarily tempt fate, playing to the tramlines.
Smart game plan
Zhi Yi Wang can beat the top names on her day (and their bad ones), but isn’t quite pickled in the craft of deception. Ratchanok Intanon has drilled holes in her game for a while now, and Sindhu used canny deception on her strokes to get her to fall short in the forecourt as she was often found stranded at the back.
The drift dictated not just the lopsided individual game scores. It also nipped extravagances of hard hitting, as given half a whiff, the shuttle would gladly stray along the lines, such was the drift from left to right and from the near side of the court. It was in grappling with that wild bird that Sindhu displayed her seasoned skill. The diagonal is always the longest leeway on a shuttle court, and playing across made sense to keep the shuttle on a plausible leash.
So, the power hitter Sindhu would fold away her unfettered attack and play the soft touches – angled drops from mid-court with a veiled racquet face, pinpoint net exchanges – not one shot more than required, pushing Wang back one step at a time.
Matters level at 1-1, and twice with the Chinese threatening to close down gaps at 11-12 and 14-16 in the decider, Sindhu would show precise shot selection and use more of the tempered drops and pushes to widen the gap once more. Prone to getting agitated if gaps narrowed earlier, Sindhu would stay cool as a cat, and then stamp her authority in closing out. That composure has been lacking against bigger players, but that seemed down to confidence, and nothing inherently in her game. Against Wang, the Indian looked well in control.
Titles like in Singapore have always been in Sindhu’s reach, though she has prioritised the big stage, high-intensity, mounting-pressure tournaments like Worlds and Olympics over the circuit rigmarole. Three weeks back-to-back in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore helped her err and figure out corrections in her closing-out game, and the title is best seen as a smoothening of rough edges.
Granting it any more importance would be a disservice to Sindhu’s calibre and potential of winning the big ones of the season. Even the Commonwealth Games ought to be seen, relative to the competition on offer, as a box to be ticked for the champion athlete, without going over the top once that happens. A five-time Worlds medallist knows her stomping ground is the World Championship. Singapore was a pitstop, albeit a validating one. “Just a start”, as Sindhu offered.
Naik, S. (2022, July 18). Singapore Open: PV Sindhu roars in Lion City. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/sports/badminton/pv-sindhu-win-singapore-open-title-8034648/