Sindhu conquered her most elusive gold medal that she had been running after for the past six years by taking sweet revenge over Nozomi Okuhara with an authoritative scoreline of 21-7, 21-7 in the finals of 2019 BWF World Championships. Before the tournament started the author had written a detailed preview of what one could expect from Sindhu going into this tournament.
One of the aspects Sindhu said before the start of the tournament was her stamina which cost her dearly two years back in Glasgow. But it was not just stamina that was visible, but a lot of minute things that went into achieving the gold.
An Analysis of her Tactical Changes:
1. Change in Footwork :
As someone who's close to 6 feet tall, Sindhu has an excellent reach of picking the shots from the centre of the court. But one of the things used against her was to put her into front court net shots where she has to do more work than just taking a long stride using her diagonal reach to pick up shots. When she makes the extra run to pick the net shot, it gives her reduced time to return to the center of the court. This can put a player in awkward positions while trying to run back to the centre because your body won't be in the linear position to return for the next shot.
It was abundantly clear that she had been working in tuning her movements to reduce the time taken to return to the centre so as to enable her to give more time to reach for the shuttle. This was evident as early as her first-round match against Pai Yu Po of Chinese Taipei, which she won 21-14; 21-15.
Pai who is 173 cm tall and one of the tallest players in the circuit was a match for the equally lanky Sindhu and put her through some tough work by making Sindhu cover all the four corners of the court and trying to get points out net retrieval mistakes and unforced error in rallies. But Sindhu remained composed and kept the game going without giving much room for Pai to take a lead and in the end finished with a comfortable win.
But the major sign of improvement in her approach was visible when she took on Beiwen Zhang in the next round and absolutely bossed her around the court. The destruction was so much that the match completed within 30 mins, which under normal circumstances would be the duration of just a single set if it was a close game.
2. Taming the 'Queen' Tai :
This was the contest everyone dreaded and it finally happened in the quarter-finals. Sindhu had never met Tai in the World Championships before and Sindhu's head to head record against Tai in the circuit all pointed to only one thing - a tough loss.
As the first set started, these fears started coming true as Tai pushed Sindhu all around the court and used a combination of diagonal net drops, deception, and pushing Sindhu into the backhand to totally unsettle her. To make things worse Sindhu started the game very passively and showed no intention of attacking Tai, much different from her body language in the previous round. It was a completely a one-sided affair in the first set and the scoreline was a respectable 12-21 only because Sindhu managed to pull some points later.
But the signs of mental toughness showed up in the second set as Sindhu unleashed a bully attack tactic and played more actively - unleashing attacking strokes and hanging in rallies by sheer grit. This tactic turned fruitful as Tai couldn't race to a comfortable lead as she was able to in the previous set and the scoreline difference was almost always reading the same or a gap of just 1 or 2 points.
If there's one thing that unsettles Tai, it's the fact the opponent retrieves everything she throws at them.
Sindhu had mentioned the previous day that there was no tactic against Tai and that the only thing she had to do was to stay alive in every rally. This totally unsettled Tai's natural game of playing with graceful strokes and deception and she adapted a more generic game. This was totally in stark contrast to how Tai played her first set and this continued till the end of the second game.
Sindhu's endless retrievals made Tai think time and again and this unsettled Tai as she went for more hasty ends to rallies and spiralled into unforced errors at crunch times. This continued over in the third set as well as overhead backhand drops and a barrage of measured smashes forced Tai to switch back to her game of deception, which under pressure turned into unforced errors and eventually gifting Sindhu the win.
3. Unlocking the Chinese code with mental toughness :
Very few Chinese women's singles players have had a successful calendar year and one of them was Chen Yufei, the reigning All England champion. Chen Yufei plays a natural game, stays in rallies and let's opponent do their mistakes.
But Sindhu wasn't having any of it and started the game with all guns blazing, much like her game against Beiwen Zhang in the earlier round. Sindhu decimated Chen Yufei 21-7 in the first set and sent her into a state of shock from which she tried to recover, but couldn't put a foot up, eventually falling down in the second set 21-14 in a game that lasted just around 40 mins.
After the match, Chen Yufei admitted that "Sindhu had brought her A-game. I was unprepared for it and wasn't able to reach shots, unlike other days."
4. 2017 revenge and the sweet gold :
Sindhu entered the final against Okuhara with memories still fresh from her Glasgow disappointment in 2017 after battling for almost 2 hours.
Before the game Sindhu was asked "What would be her approach to final this time?" and down came the answer in a flash, “It’s going to be a bit different”.
Sindhu started the game exactly where she left it previously against Yufei packing a blitzkrieg of attack and barrage of smashes leaving Okuhara stunned and gave no time to recover. Sindhu constantly pushed Okuhara to all four corners of the court and more often targeted Okuhara's backhand and lunged with the followups to Okuhara's backhand returns leaving Okuhard completely flummoxed. The opening game scoreline read 21-7 and the 2nd set started in a similar fashion as she xeroxed her first set performance in the second and managed to take it with the same scoreline of 21-7 and ended her long-elusive search of World Championship gold.
As Sindhu stood in tears when the Indian national anthem played for the first-ever time at the BWF World Championship, all ardent badminton fans soaked in the achievement.
Come soon, Tokyo 2020!