Strategies were tweaked and hidden cards were revealed in the final of the BWF World Superseries Finals in Dubai on Sunday where India’s PV Sindhu went down fighting to Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi 21-15, 12-21, 19-21 in a match that lasted 1 hour 34 minutes.
The two squared off for the second time in the tournament after a dead rubber in the group stages saw Sindhu racing away to a 21-9, 21-13 win, a score-line which led many to speculate if Yamaguchi was being wary of the possibility of facing off against Sindhu in the final and hence, was playing her cards right by not revealing all.
Yamaguchi replicates Okuhara's play second game onwards
Yamaguchi evidently belongs to the same school of the game as fellow Japanese Nozomi Okuhara, who had edged past Sindhu in a similar fashion in the final of the World Badminton Championships in Glasgow.
The first game saw Sindhu relying on her smashes to close out the rallies effectively. Going into the mid-game interval, the score read 11-8 in favour of Sindhu, a 3-point cushion which would inevitably widen, and so it did to 18-13 when Sindhu unleashed a smash which went down the backhand side of Yamaguchi.
The following point -- a weak return from Yamaguchi -- allowed Sindhu to march up to the net and swat the shuttle to bring up the game point, eventually closing out the first game 21-15.
The second game commenced with a flurry of shots off the racquet of Sindhu bringing her up to 5-0 in no time. However, a revision of the tactics famously employed by Okuhara in Glasgow saw Yamaguchi relying on her unmatchable agility and endurance for stretching the rallies.
Her returns panned the length and breadth of the court, much to the dismay of Sindhu, whose tall frame was being subjected to gruelling bends and turns. Soon enough, 5-0 turned to 7-4 and then 8-8 before Yamaguchi entered the mid-game interval with the score reading 11-8 in her favour.
The short serve being employed by both the players in the first game made way for the lobbed serve by Yamaguchi, and to good effect as it forced Sindhu to the back of the court and made her smashes ineffective. The score moved briskly thereon as Yamaguchi evaded any service breaks, eventually winning the second game 21-12, thus forcing the decider.
Both players began the deciding game with a renewed vigour, with the pace of the rallies being amped up. Yamaguchi’s tactics aimed at tiring her opponent peaked in the third game which meant that Sindhu was often seen bending down and tightening her shoe-laces in a bid to bide her time.
Yet, the score-line moved neck-to-neck until Sindhu went into the mid-game interval at 11-8. At 13-13, both players played out a taxing 52-shot rally, which saw Sindhu returning what were seemingly unplayable smashes by Yamaguchi to close out the rally with a drop. The draining rally left both players gasping for breath, making it all the more difficult to judge as to which player was more tired.
A poor serve by Sindhu at 18-18 gave a crucial lifeline to Yamaguchi while the following point saw Sindhu pressing forward to equal the score at 19-19, with her coach Pullela Gopichand being found in a rare moment of ecstasy in a bid to cheer on his pupil.
However, strenuous rallies followed which saw Sindhu committing grave errors with Yamaguchi winning the game and the match 15-21, 21-12, 21-19 for the crown. It did not end on a good note for Sindhu but she could find heart in going the distance against a player whose game is built on her endurance and immaculate court coverage.
However, the demon of being so near and yet so far has yet to be laid to rest for Sindhu as she has now come up on the losing side in arguably three of the biggest finals of her career -- the Rio Olympics, the World Badminton Championships and now the BWF World Superseries Finals.Published 19 Dec 2017, 16:16 IST