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Badminton World Championships: Drop by drop, PV Sindhu rises

PV Sindhu used her deceptive drop shot to outclass Nozomi Okuhara 21-17, 21-19; guaranteed of bronze at World Championships


All ugly talk of her suspect mental strength can be binned after PV Sindhu scored a drop-dead gorgeous win over Nozomi Okuhara at the Nanjing World Championships’ last 8 on Friday. The 21-17, 21-19 win, on the back of a game of sophisticated and nuanced drop-shots, highlighted that her mind was never fragile in last year’s Finals — a little clueless, yes; but it was the limbs that needed to imbibe the variation of a stroke that was still being polished at Glasgow.
The 58-minute quarterfinal victory ensured the 23-year-old would win her fourth World Championship medal in five outings. The colour of the medal is up for speculation till she meets another Japanese Akane Yamaguchi, on Saturday. Still, it is a mark of her consistency and fitness at the topmost level of the sport, that she ended as the only repeat semifinalist from last year.
Since Glasgow, Sindhu has beaten Okuhara twice, and lost as many times. But this was the first time she looked completely in control of the match, though there was no sparing her the punishing rallies that come with Okuhara. Nothing reached the 73-shot crescendo of last August, but there’s two undeniable truths: the sun will rise first in Japan, and Nozomi Okuhara will not go down gently into the fading night of defeat. Sindhu, seeded third here, though, could ride over the rallies — 45, 32, 30 shots, but looked like she was brimming with answers today.
The missing part of the puzzle last year had been the Drops.
“Sindhu played the down-the-line drops more than the cross-court drops which had ironically gotten her into trouble last year,” Gopichand explained. The rallies were long, but did not look like a pendulum swinging to a monotone, because Sindhu would drop in the timely drop-shot.
It was probably Sindhu’s first big convincing win over a true blue defensive player in the last two years on the big stage – and it came, courtesy the disruptive drop. It wasn’t just lasting the rallies dictated by Okuhara – this needed surgical, selective attacking, like that rally late in the second with scores going heel to heel, where she kept nipping pace of the shuttle for the straight drops, and suddenly switched gears for the smash.
Twice, Okuhara led and twice Sindhu and her big assured game, got themselves out of the ditch. She wasn’t hitting as hard as last year – putting all her might and strength into trying to force out the winners. Her tone was more coaxing today, which surprised and then did the Japanese eighth seed in. In other words, she wasn’t Mad Max on a wild rampage of never-ending rallies. This was a more discerning Sindhu, rationing her power, using it only on the kill.
She would mix her shots. The big smash one moment, and the soft downward shot next. There were pushes to both flanks to follow the disguised big hits from back of the court. “On the high serve, Sindhu’s shots varied,” Vimal Kumar explains. “She didn’t straightaway go for the big smash. It started with the half smash, then a clear and then the drops.”
Now, the best drop on the court belonged to Nozomi — her deceptive showpiece, the wrist bamboozler, reverse drop. But save for the one on her left, Sindhu was picking all of Okuhara’s storied strokes. It was Okuhara’s turn to appear scrambling, hyper-stretching on the overhead and generally get wrong footed on Sindhu’s soft-strokes and sharp placement.
Of course, the Indian used her reach for defensive duties, but Okuhara has brought the best out of Sindhu technically over the years. In 2016 at Rio, it was the jump-smash that she had roped in to use the full might of her height. Two years on, it was the drops, a facet that adds to Sindhu’s game.
“Overall, Sindhu was stronger mentally and this needed patience,” Gopichand would add. Sindhu’s next opponent is cut from the same smooth cloth, except Yamaguchi strikes on both sides, and will make Sindhu lunge for her own sharp drops. “But this match will give Sindhu confidence,” Vimal Kumar added.


The crazy-ball Japanese who got rid of Chen Yufei, tends to smash much more than Okuhara. But with slow shuttles, she ll find it tough to pierce through Sindhu’s own defense.

Sindhu called it “a very good match,” adding that being patient had paid dividends. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and in second scores went level and I had to be patient. Thoughts of last Worlds didn’t really cross my mind,” she said adding that she refrained from thinking about it when leading.
“It’s not over yet. Tomorrow I need to come stronger,” she ended. World’s 2017 avenged, now SS Finals needs score-settling. With the Sindhu-drop in tow.



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Thought of the day

A positive attitude can really make dreams come true - it did for me.
David Bailey