PV Sindhu left the tournament the same way she had left last year – losing to Thai lefthander Supanida Katethong, except the 21-14, 22-20 loss this year came in Round 1. The slow courts were bound to see the Thai southpaw suck the speed out of Sindhu’s strokes, and she additionally lured the Indian favourite to the net where she confidently killed off her rather confusing exchanges.
Coached by Korean Kim Ji-hyun, who was familiar with Sindhu’s game, Supanida had pin point instructions coming her way – first to slow down the game and take the punch out of strokes, and later to test Sindhu defensively.
It’s been a persistent problem with Sindhu, where her defensive solutions to cleverly pace manipulating players like the Thai, end up leaving her neither here nor there when an all-out attack could have been a better option. That sort of aggression and attack comes naturally to her, than the long grinding rallies, but for some reason, Sindhu enters the defensive labyrinth and then seems lost trying to push the pace nearing the end of the set when it’s too late.
On Tuesday at the KD Jadhav hall too, Sindhu was troubled by the southpaw’s angles, though she played a completely different game than last year, when she had rained down jump smashes on the Indian. Today she went for the other extreme – utterly slow drops and tosses, even as Sindhu appeared listless in her movement, barely committal to the defensive work rate that was needed if she was going to wait for who-blinks-first.
By the time she went on the offensive in the second, keeping pace with Supanida, the task had become too onerous and she was seconds away from an early exit, which put pressure on her.
Soon after her Delhi loss, Sindhu had beaten the Thai at Lucknow at the Syed Modi, by playing a thoroughly aggressive game. Her efforts to prop up her defense – though helping bolster her rally construction — are never going to fetch her wins. This when what she needs is short, crisp attacking play, with preferably an increase in speed.
However, her excessive reliance on defense, citing the toll the years have taken on her body, is incongruent with the gamestyle she should try to build — an attacking game that reduces match durations.
What is confounding in her team’s thinking is how she plans to protect against injuries by playing a brutally taxing defensive game as defensive games tend to be.
Against Supanida all those questions came rushing back, as Sindhu finds herself on the crossroads. Her repertoire of strokes has broadened, her movement is smoother thanks to coach Park. But the unflinching dependence on defense as a style of play isn’t quite working out.
Having said she is keen on focussing on the Sudirman Cup to peak, Sindhu gets some time to go back to the drawing board. But her team will need to make up their minds on the defensive conundrum because at her core, she is a blazing attacking shuttler.
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