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Badminton

Malaysia Masters: Back in rhythm, PV Sindhu reaches final, looks for first title in two years

Sindhu made a poor start to the match. As the game progressed, she looked faster and sharper while Busanan looked out of order after playing a terrific first game.

Malaysia Masters: Back in rhythm, PV Sindhu reaches final, looks for first title in two years
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By

Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 25 May 2024 1:41 PM GMT

Things started looking promising for PV Sindhu just two months before the Paris Olympics.

Returning from a long injury layoff, she reached her first final on the BWF World Tour on Saturday after more than a year. In between, Sindhu had endured several frustrating defeats, leading her to doubt her own game.

The star Indian shuttler defeated Thailand's Busanan Ongbamrungphan 13-21, 21-16, 21-12 in an epic 88-minute semifinal at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur to reach the women's singles final of Malaysia Masters, a BWF Super 500 event.

The day before, Sindhu sent off top seed Han Yue of China in another gruelling three-gamer. Unlike her last few tournaments, where Sindhu looked worn out near the end, there was no sign of fatigue; her game only grew better in a sapping competition as her opponents looked gasping for breath.

Sindhu last played in the final at the Madrid Spain Masters in April 2023 when Indonesia's Putri Kusuma Wardani handed her a straight-game defeat.

She has been out of a BWF World Tour title for nearly two years. Her last title came at the Singapore Open Super 500 in July 2022.

The Malaysia Masters semifinal, in fact, was Sindhu's first since the Denmark Open in October.

However, Sindhu, a two-time Olympic medallist, seemingly got her rhythm back and is on course to peak her fitness and form ahead of the Paris Olympics. It was evident in her 18th win against Busanan.

Faster and sharper

Sindhu looked out of sorts in the first game when the fifth-seeded Indian player lost 13-21.

As Busanan played a slow yet steady game and deployed superb blocks, drops and angled drives, sometimes leaving the Indian wanting on the other side of her court, Sindhu's expensive smashes fell flat against the Thai shuttler's accurate retrievals. Busanan won the game with seven game points in hand.

As the second game progressed, Sindhu drew the first blood, but the game remained close till 14-12, with Busanan still showing intent to fetch winners engaging Sindhu in rallies and drawing her closer to the net and winning three points in a row with her crisscrossing net shots.

Busanan, also, once in a while, tried to shake Sindhu with body smashes. But an improved defence and constant retrievals meant Sindhu clawed back in the match taking a 16-13 lead.

As Sindhu cemented her domination in the match, effecting slick court coverage and smashes, charging at the net, and her crosscourt winners coming frequently, Busanan looked rattled and committed several unforced errors by playing the shuttle wide and long, sometimes against the pace at which Sindhu dispatched her strokes.

Sindhu got five-game points at 20-15; Busanan could save one before losing it 21-16.

As Sindhu continued to get better in her game, looking faster and sharper, more reflex returns started coming in. Busanan, too, stayed in the game, engaging in entertaining rallies.

But a few lost points meant she wilted under pressure and was no longer close to her best as seen in the first game. On one occasion, she stretched her arms in frustration unable to counter Sindhu's improvised net drops.

As errors piled on and Sindhu, looking more spontaneous in her reaction, fortified her game with solid defensive blocks and winners, Busanan slowly went out of contention for a place in the final.

In the decider, Sindhu broke away to an 11-5 lead at the interval, executing her staple over-the-head and crosscourt smashes with sheer accuracy.

Busanan tried to close the gap by drawing Sindhu closer to the net, but Sindhu's constant returns with tosses and yearning to extend her lead meant she claimed a massive 17-10 lead. As Sindhu intensified her attack, Busnana gradually looked out of order.

At 20-12, Sindhu had eight match points and Busanan hit the net again. There was a roar at the arena, but Sindhu kept her celebration staid after an energy-sapping final, she just raised her arms, perhaps restoring one for the final.

'Get the confidence back'

Sindhu will play Wang Zhi Yi in the summit clash on Sunday, her second Chinese opponent this week since she beat Han Yue in the quarterfinals. Though Sindhu won against Zhi Yi twice, she lost against her during their last meeting. The world no. 15 Indian will look to avenge her semifinal defeat to Zhi Yi at the Arctic Open in 2023.

The 28-year-old has vowed to regain her lost position on the World Tour. Sindhu's start to the ongoing season has not been exceptional. She was back in action in February after a three-month injury layoff.

This win marked a significant step towards her progress en route to the Olympics. What was promising in this win was that Sindhu won three three-gamers yet she showed little sign of fatigue.

"Mentally and physically I am 100 per cent. Now it is time to get that confidence back," Sindhu said to BWF after reaching the semifinals. "I am getting there but there is still a lot more inside. I need to get all of that out," she affirmed.

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