BWF World Tour Finals 2018: Improved netplay and defence help PV Sindhu overcome Akane Yamaguchi
PV Sindhu avenged her narrow loss to Akane Yamaguchi in last year's final as she made a winning start to her campaign at the BWF World Tour Finals 2018 in Guangzhou, China on Wednesday. The 24-22, 21-15 win that Sindhu ground out in 51 minutes was a much-needed one as she has been placed in a group where the other players are the World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying and the India Open champion Beiwen Zhang.
Sindhu does not have a good career record against them and has suffered losses to both this year. It was imperative that she started her challenge with a win against Yamaguchi, who was the easiest of her three opponents on paper.
The rematch of the 2017 final did not prove to be an easy one for the Indian, except for the second half of the second game. The Indian made a bright start, racing ahead 3-1 but that was more due to the fact that Yamaguchi looked off in the initial few points.
Once Yamaguchi settled into the match, it became more and more apparent that Sindhu simply could not get any points through her attacking approach. The Japanese World No. 2 did not take much time to find her rhythm. After drawing level at 3-3, she kept relentlessly going for her crosscourt shots to attack the weaker Sindhu backhand.
Yamaguchi’s brilliant movement around the court and her speed made life more difficult for the lanky Sindhu. The World No. 6 soon started trailing 3-6 before the Japanese built an 11-6 advantage at the time of the mid-game interval.
The break and the pep talk with coach Pullela Gopichand helped Sindhu find new ideas and she came back rejuvenated and motivated to make a fight out of it.
On the slower court at Guangzhou, a lot more patience was needed. That is something the Indian finally understood as she resorted to building rallies first without going for outright aggression.
More alertness on the front court and improved netplay also helped Sindhu claw her way back into the game.
She closed the gap to just two points at 9-11 but immediately saw Yamaguchi going up further to 13-9. A string break also did not help Sindhu as it allowed the Japanese to go ahead 17-13.
But Sindhu was soon able to shake it off and focus more on remaining steady during points. With the Japanese erring a bit, the Indian made it a one-point gap at 17-18, before going on to level at 19-19.
The rallies became prolonged as they approached the business end of the opening game. A 37-shot rally ended in favour of the Indian and that clearly established her better defensive skills.
At that juncture, Sindhu earned her first game point through a wondrous angle at the net that flummoxed the diminutive Japanese. However much that was admirable, she soon undid that good job with a rare service error and that brought Yamaguchi back in contention at 20-20.
All that was needed for the Japanese to crack was to send the shuttle out after a 36-shot rally. The miss after that laborious effort not only robbed her of a point but also dented her confidence. It very soon became Sindhu’s game at 24-22.
In a mirror image of the first game, Yamaguchi overturned an early deficit to take a 7-5 lead in the second game. She even held a slender one-point edge at the time of the mid-game interval. But she collapsed totally thereafter, gifting cheap points to the Indian which saw Sindhu go up 18-12.
After conceding eight successive points, Akane stopped the rot. However, by then, the damage had already been done and Sindhu slammed the door shut on her second match point.
What was heartening to watch in this match was how fresh and spirited Sindhu looked. It was a far cry from the exhausted Sindhu who could not even get past the second round in Hong Kong, which was her last tournament prior to this.
Playing at the Syed Modi International could have even given her first title of the season, for which she is still desperately searching. But she put fitness over ambition and that paid rich dividends today.
The fact that she did not allow her opponent to force a third game should stand her in good stead for the rest of her matches. Making that strong comeback in the first game when it looked all but over was crucial and the energy she could manage to save due to that, could prove to be a difference-maker should she get a semi-final berth.