Such was Sindhu’s dominance that she sent all her opponents packing by crushing them in straight games before storming into the semis. But the journey was derailed a bit when she lost to World Number one Tai Tzu Ying in the semis. Tai Tzy eventually finished with the silver medal, after losing the women’s singles final to China’s Chen Yu Fei.
TimesofIndia.com caught up with former India badminton player Aparna Popat to try and dissect the technical aspects of Sindhu’s game at the Tokyo Olympics. Aparna, who represented India in two Olympics – Sydney Olympics 2000 and Athens Olympics 2004 – analysed all the matches Sindhu played enroute to the bronze medal.
PV Sindhu. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Match 1: Sindhu vs Israel’s Ksenia Polikarpova (Sindhu won 21-7, 21-10) AND Match 2: Sindhu vs Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi (Sindhu won 21-9, 21-16)
APARNA: Both the matches against Ksenia and Cheung Ngan Yi were like, Sindhu just wanted to get out of the group stages. Both these matches, especially vs Ksenia, we are not taking anybody lightly, were straightforward matches. When you are better than your opponent, you just go there and do the formalities. I am not saying that we should take any opponent lightly. I want to say that there was not much reading into it at all. It is also a great opportunity for a player to get acclimatised as per the court conditions and get rid of the early butterflies (in the stomach) and nerves you have in the initial stage of the tournament. She had a very good first-round match so that she could settle in. Cheung Ngan was a slightly better opponent for Sindhu.
Match 3 (Pre-Quarters): Sindhu vs Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt (Sindhu won 21-15, 21-13)
APARNA: Blichfeldt had defeated Sindhu in the month of January (Thailand Open first round). Sindhu had then defeated her at the Swiss Open (in March). But the way Sindhu played against her in the Olympics, showed Sindhu was very consistent and composed. Mia made a lot of unforced errors. There is much more difference when you play your first Olympics and then second. In the second Olympic appearance, you are much more prepared mentally. It happened to me as well. In my second Olympic appearance, I was much calmer. In that sense, Sindhu had the advantage. She definitely played more consistently against Blichfeldt. When you are not giving points on unforced errors, then it gets difficult for the opponent to get through Sindhu.
Match 4 (Quarters): Sindhu vs Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi (Sindhu won 21-13, 22-20)
APARNA: First, Yamaguchi is World No. 5 and Sindhu is 7. If we talk about head-to-head then it was 11-7 to Sindhu (before this match). Playing against a Japanese in Japan – that could have been an advantage for Yamaguchi, but it turned out to be the other way. I think Yamaguchi was under tremendous pressure. Because the Japanese have done well right through the tournament across disciplines. So, the pressure was on Yamaguchi. However, having said that, Yamaguchi tried all that she could, but Sindhu was very consistent against her. Yamaguchi did commit many unforced errors, especially at the baseline in the first game. She couldn’t control the shuttle in the opening game. On the other hand, consistency and attacking won Sindhu the match. When your opponent is making errors, all you have to do is stay steady. Sindhu’s composure and the control over the shuttle, control over the baseline, control over the net were amazing.
PV Sindhu. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Match 5 (Semis): Sindhu vs Tai Tzu Ying (Sindhu lost 18-21, 12-21)
APARNA: Sindhu was either in the lead or scores were level up until 17 or 18 in the first game. After that Tai got two three quick points and finished that game off. Had those three points gone Sindhu’s way, things could have been different. Because getting the first game is a bit of a psychological advantage as well. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen. In the second game, a player like Tai who can control the shuttle well enough, was psychologically feeling calm as she had won the first game. Then she started going for her strokes. Sindhu could have adopted another game plan. But, she didn’t. And Tai was very much in control and then Sindhu couldn’t do anything. Because Tai is such a skillful and stroke (based) player, you can counter her in two ways – either you go complete on defence and get all the shuttles back and defend and retrieve or start attacking. Kill her attack with attack. According to me, Sindhu, after losing the first game, should have gone all out in the second game. I don’t know if it would have worked or not. But trying something different would have made a difference. I would say, it was worth a try.
Match 6 (Bronze Medal match): Sindhu vs He Bing Jiao (Sindhu won 21-13, 21-15)
APARNA: I read online that Sindhu and her coach were preparing for two months to play Tai. Tai was definitely the target they were looking at. It (losing the match vs Tai Tzu Ying) would have been emotionally and mentally draining for her. Knowing Sindhu, I was confident that she would pick herself up after the loss in the semis. She is mentally so strong. If there is a match that is difficult to play it is the bronze medal match. Because it is a match of medal or no medal. If you win, you are on a spree. If you lose and then you have to play a match, that requires a lot of effort. Sindhu looked determined. She was playing faster than what we saw her playing in the previous matches. She was more proactive. She was more on the attack. What stood out for me is her consistency. She hasn’t given away points so easily in the competition.