Early exits, upset defeats but also two titles
There is some uncertainty about how PV Sindhu will perform in the first half of 2022. Is it a bad pass or just a bad draw? Should his season so far only be seen in terms of results on the biggest stages? She has won two titles in 2022 – the Syed Modi International and the Swiss Open, both at Super 300 level. She also has a bronze medal to show for at the Asian Championships. But the former world champion has yet to set the big stage on fire.
At this week’s Indonesia Open, which is a Super 1000 event, the seventh seed lost to China’s He Bing Jiao 14-21, 18-21 in the first round. On paper, this looks like a shocker – an early release. But, He Bing Jiao is the world number 9 who held a 9-8 record against Sindhu and has often troubled her even in recent wins.
A look at the opponents Sindhu has lost against in the recent past speaks volumes about the current women’s badminton court. Ratchanok Intanon, former world No. 1 and world champion, at the Indonesia Masters last week. Defending Olympic champion Chen Yufei, this one coming on the heels of beating Akane Yamaguchi at the Thailand Open Super 500. Defending world champion Akane Yamaguchi at the Asian Championships. Rising World No. 3 An Seyoung at the Korea Open.
Of course, there was also a good deal of upheaval. The second-round loss to lower-ranked southpaw Sayaka Takahashi at All England. To Supanida Katethong at the Indian Open. To Zhang Yi Man from China, at the German Open who was a Super 300 and therefore had a less difficult field.
What exactly is wrong with her?
Former player Aparna Popat believes the answer lies not in the past but in the future.
“Maybe there could be some fitness issues, maybe as an athlete you would like to technically work on certain things. Those things happen,” she says. “She is a top 10 athlete herself, having her lose to other top 10 athletes is okay, but it’s not planned or something that should happen too often. She could be one of the top 10 that beat the others and that’s what we want?
“I think with her reputation and experience she can be a bit more consistent. I wouldn’t know exactly why this is happening, but I would say set a goal, say you want to be in the Top 5 and don’t slip under it,” she added.
Consistency seems to be the big issue for Sindhu. Many of his matches went to the deciding match, but it was either a lack of sustained physical exertion or the final kill that ended him. Last week, her match against Intanon felt lopsided even though it wasn’t the biggest event in Indonesia and she also needed three games in her first two matches. Seems like it’s been a long time since Sindhu beat the big names.
“Individual losses will come,” says Popat, “even in the Top 10, I can be uncomfortable against three players, but not all of them. There will always be those opponents you are uncomfortable against. saina [Nehwal] used to lose at Tai Tzu [Ying]for [Roger] Federer was [Rafael] Nadal is good. But that winning percentage somewhere has to be maintained. Because she’s so talented, being so erratic doesn’t help.”
The situation also reveals the expectations placed on Sindhu as one of India’s most successful badminton players. The pressure or even the need to constantly perform on the grueling BWF tour for points can be a difficult task and sometimes requires strategic planning.
Popat thinks that could be another reason. “Come next year, Olympic qualification starts again where you have to maintain your ranking logically and strategically, it’s kind of a lesser year, with even the Asian Games canceled. It could be fine if it just maintains in the top 10 and then builds against the start of the Olympic cycle. Last time, her big advantage was that she qualified very early and then she had flexibility.”
And then ?
At a time when the men’s badminton chart suddenly soared via Lakshya Sen and then the historic Thomas Cup triumph, Sindhu’s results can look starkly mixed.
However, it is part of every athlete’s life. Even former world champions. Even the only Indian woman to win two Olympic medals. She’s only 26 and still in the top 10, so there’s no need to press a panic button or sharpen the knives. It may just be a matter of time.
There are still important events to be played this year – the Commonwealth Games in July and the World Championship in August. Sindhu is still India’s top singles player; indeed the only one to regularly compete in BWF Tour events during Saina Nehwal’s continued injury layoff. She’s a bankable performer at big events and her big game mentality can never be out counted.
“Sindhu is so talented, with her physique and now her experience added to that, I think she can be quite formidable,” says Popat.
This is the hope all Indian badminton fans have of her and it will be multiplied in the second half of 2022. Whether Sindhu can bear it or it weighs him down is an interesting story to watch for the rest of the season.