World champion PV Sindhu made her way to the women’s singles semi-finals on Friday with a straight-game 21-13, 22-20 win against Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi at Musashino Forest Plaza, Tokyo.
This is Sindhu's second consecutive appearance in the women's singles badminton semifinals at the Olympics. No other Indian shuttler has achieved this feat.
Despite being a straight-game victory, the match was a tough contest for the Indian. The match lasted for 56 minutes and was locked in a tense battle up until the very end. However, it was Sindhu who held her nerves at the end to close the match and book a place in the semifinals.
Sindhu, who won the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, had a speculative start but quickly turned into an offensive mode. In the first game, she controlled the play for the most part, courtesy of he superb defensive skills.Yamaguchi struggled with the drift and made several errors.
Sindhu was leading 14-8 in the second game. However Yamaguchi made a great comeback. The Japanese shuttler won eight of the next nine points to turn the tables on Sindhu and take the lead at 15-16.
Yamaguchi continued her flurry of winning points and even had a chance to win the second game at 20-18. Just when it seemed that the Japanese shuttler would take the second set, Sindhu fought back. Her ability to hold her nerve in crunch moments has paid off very well in the tournament. She staged a comeback of her own to win the next four points and move into the semifinals.
After the match Sindhu spoke to the media. Following are excerpts from the conversation she had with the press.
You staged an incredible comeback to win the match. Match of the tournament for you?
Today is the second time that I had to play a crucial match in Tokyo. Even though she was leading (at one point in the second game), I never lost hope. I was not that nervous. At 20-18, I'm sure many people will get nervous.
However, I think we've (her coach and PV) trained so hard for this and my coach was constantly saying - It's okay. It's not over yet, be focused and you can do it.
Even though she came back (in the second game), I was ready and knew that it might happen. So I did not focus on it much.
I think they were really, really long rallies. Also, there were a few errors from my side when I was hitting smashes. But I think apart from that, I'm happy that I was able to finish off the match in two games.
Have you done any specific work to ensure your physical fitness?
Yes. Not just that, I have worked on every single stroke and technical aspects and others skills as well.
I've worked really hard on everything. Even though it was tough due to the pandemic, i kept my focus. Despite the struggles of the pandemic, I doubled down on my hard work to keep myself ready.
Usually, we have tournaments to get match practice. However, due to COVID-19, they were canceled. Instead of losing focus, I utilized my time really well.
Moreover, my coach was always there with me. We have worked for hours on everything - my skills, techniques, mental and physical aspects.
Tell us something about the soft drop (which came up during the match). Is it a new move? Can you tell us a little about it?
Yeah, as i mentioned earlier (to another set of reporters), I don't know (maybe she chose to remain secretive about it for obvious reasons). As I said, I definitely think you will see some other new skills and techniques here. This is the Olympics. I used it at the right moment and I am happy it worked out.
You're well within the grasp of your second Olympic medal. Is it playing in your head?
It's not over yet as I am yet to secure a medal. I think it's very important for me to be focused and relaxed now and get ready for the next match. I get that people are excited and talking about the possibility of a second Olympic medal (for Sindhu) but it's not over yet for me. All I know is I have my next match (semifinals) tomorrow so it's time for me to relax and come back stronger.
What was the strategy behind going into the match?
I was ready for long rallies and I think it was not like a particular one-strategy match. I'm sure she would have known my game and her coaches might have told her what to expect from me (the duo have had one of the longest rivalries on the current circuit, having played each other 19 times).
And even we've seen her game. We played in England recently and it was a really good match. So there was no particular strategy but I think it was important that I maintain my attack because that's my strong point. However, overall, I was prepared for everything.
You had a fifty-four-stroke rally. What did you make of it?
(During the second game, there was a sensational 54-shot 62-second rally that left both the players on their knees. Both players were on the floor gasping for breath but it was the Japanese who eventually came out on top with a smash down the line.)
I badly wanted to get that point. Even she didn't relax because that was a crucial moment when it was 15-13 and it became 15-14. We were just focusing on that point in particular and we got intensely involved in a mini-battle for that point. It went to a point where it was no longer just strategic, we enjoyed the point and the long rally and she won (the point) eventually.
What are your takeaways from this match?
One thing I want to remind myself is that even if you're (PV talking about herself) leading, don't expect the match to be in the bag. You always have to be prepared. It works both ways to be aware and alert. It helped when I was 20-18 down that regardless of the score I was able to focus on just the next point in play.