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Listless Sindhu knocked out of world championships

This one’s going to hurt. Perhaps more than any other loss of late. You could see the dejection on PV Sindhu’s face as she reached the net to shake Nozomi Okuhara’s hand, eager to rush off the court.

Indian badminton player PV Sindhu reacts during her match(PTI)
Indian badminton player PV Sindhu reacts during her match(PTI)

For the first time in her career, the two-time Olympic medallist failed to reach the quarter-finals of the World Championships, a special event for Sindhu where she has medalled five times in seven previous outings. Despite such a stellar record, the 28-year-old was knocked out in Round 2, after receiving a first-round bye, to continue a season of disappointment.

More than the loss, what will pinch Sindhu is the way in which she capitulated, especially in the second game, to hand a 14-21, 14-21 victory to her Japanese rival in Copenhagen on Tuesday.

After comprehensively losing the first game, it appeared like Sindhu was fighting back when she went ahead 9-0, which on regular days is an almost insurmountable lead. Yet she could only win five of the next 26 points to show her old rival the gateway to Round 3.

For Sindhu, it had to be about keeping the errors to a bare minimum, especially considering the poor form she has been this year, suffering nine exits in the first two rounds in 14 tournaments this year. Make it 10 out of 15 now.

For the entire 44 minutes on Court 2 of the Royal Arena, Sindhu did not play her natural attacking game, was cagey, barely going for her shots. Instead of attacking, she was playing a reactive game to Okuhara, who, seeing the opportunity, started taking the initiative.

The former world No.1 from Japan used high toss serves which Sindhu repeatedly played back to her at the centre of the court, handing Okuhara the perfect chance to dominate rallies. Sindhu tried to move Okuhara around but accurate cross court drops, typical to her game, saw the Japanese slowly open up a gap and then pull away to close out the opening game in 20 minutes.

Sindhu got a huge boost when she went up 9-0 in the second game, providing herself the stage for a comeback into the match. But what happened next was bewildering as despite the lead, Sindhu allowed Okuhara to fightback into the game. The world No.36 didn’t do anything flamboyant, kept it simple, kept her errors in check to find good placement and accuracy, targeting Sindhu’s body, to incredibly draw level at 12-all.

At this point Sindhu’s body language suggested that the momentum had shifted. Okuhara was able to mix her shots well as Sindhu struggled to send the bird over Okuhara’s head. Okuhara’s persistence paid off as she was able to stage a brilliant fight back to clinch the second game in 24 minutes for the match.

What was supposed to be a blockbuster second round clash between two former world champions turned out to be an underwhelming display for Sindhu. The two have an old rivalry dating back to their junior days, having played six finals – including two at World Championships – with the head-to-head now locked at 9-9 following Tuesday’s contest.

Both shuttlers have struggled with form and injuries in recent times, Okuhara more so. The Japanese, who last won a title at the 2021 All England Open, has had two very difficult years, suffering a right femoral stress fracture, a right adductor muscle tear in addition to a recurring knee injury, forcing her to pull out of the last two World Championships.

Even though Okuhara’s comeback is more recent than Sindhu’s, the Japanese was clearly the superior player, controlling the shuttle better and making good use of the conditions, better than the Indian.

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