India Open 2018: Is the pressure of being India's top shuttler getting to PV Sindhu?
Is Sindhu crumbling under pressure? The signs are telling.
She had made a terrific comeback. After losing the first game 18-21, she had roared back in the second, barraging her opponent with a flurry of smashes to win 21-11. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as she ended up losing 20-22 in the key decider.
PV Sindhu suffered yet another loss at the threshold of glory as she went down fighting to China-born American Beiwen Zhang in the final of the India Open Super 500 tournament at the Siri Fort Sports Complex here in New Delhi.
Of course, Sindhu was disheartened after the defeat and few were surprised when the 22-year-old decided to skip the mandatory press conference. Interestingly, even Saina Nehwal had skipped the press conference after her quarter-final loss to the same opponent.
Zhang, on the other hand, was very cheerful when she was ushered into the press conference room. On being asked how she managed to eke out a win in the tight decider, the American stressed the fact that she had nothing to lose.
“I had nothing to lose and the pressure was on Sindhu. I played a lot of smashes and an attacking game which I generally don’t. This is my first major title and I am really happy. I guess it is the best moment of my career,” she said.
True to Zhang’s words, if anyone looked under any pressure in the final, it was Sindhu.
The match, itself, was a spectacle and both players were giving it their all. There was no margin for error. At one point, it even looked like Sindhu might win. But Zhang preserved and registered what was perhaps the most important win of her career till date.
These last couple of days have been Zhang’s moment(s) of shining. It started with her superb straight-game win over Saina in the quarters on Friday and ended with her first major victory on Sunday.
Taking down two top players in front of their own home fans is no mean task, especially when you have no one sitting at the coach’s corner and when you are coming off the back of a very serious injury.
On being asked if she missed that extra set of eyes during matches, Zhang coyly replied that by now she has learnt how to deal with it. After all, she has been playing without a full-time coach for the last seven years. Only recently did she start training under a coach in Singapore, but she couldn’t really afford to have him travel with her.
Zhang did mention how Indian physio Anand Kumar, who is usually more associated with the tennis players and was a part of the Mumbai Rockets support staff in the PBL, had helped her through the tournament with her injury. Kumar, later on, revealed how she had asked for his help during the recently concluded Premier Badminton League (PBL).
He said, “She came to me asking to help her during the PBL and I wasn’t doing anything so I thought why not? She had suffered a ligament tear in her right foot and so she was cautious. In the second game, once Sindhu surged ahead, she was trying to conserve her energy for the decider and eventually, that worked out well. Mentally, Zhang has been really strong and that's what mattered in the end.”
The elephant in the room
While one can go on and on about Zhang’s heroics, one cannot simply ignore the elephant in the room – the fact that Sindhu has now lost four major finals since the beginning of 2017, which include defeats at the World Championships, the Hong Kong Open, the Dubai Super Series Finals and now, the India Open.
It is unfair to say that Sindhu is incapable of winning finals. But at the same time, the way in which she has lost these summit clashes raises one or two questions. Barring the Hong Kong Open, all of her losses were very close encounters. It seems that she is making a habit of converting summit clashes into heart-stopping encounters and then, losing them, eventually.
Is Sindhu crumbling under pressure?
Today, it looked like it. In the decider, the Rio Olympic silver medallist had gone down 17-19 but then she won three back-to-back points to make it 20-19. However, a costly mistake at the net led to a lift going wide that made it 20-20 for Zhang. After that, there was no looking back for her.
The question, though, is open for debate.