CHENNAI: When you watch Tai Tzu-Ying, you come to know of angles that you didn’t even know existed. Her wrists are rubber-bands, bending one way before turning the other way to divert the bird away from the player. She has been doing it for years that it’s almost predictable.
Yet, there really is no solution when she is in that mood. On Saturday, PV Sindhu ran into that Tai, the one who reduces badminton to a complex lesson on geometry. More obtuse her angles, more acute were Sindhu’s problems.
Coming into the match, Sindhu had a losing head-to-head record (5-13) against the World No 2 from Chinese Taipei. Yet, there was a case for cautious optimism. One, Sindhu was a bigger big-game player than Tai, who didn’t have a single semifinal appearance at the World Championships or the Olympics before Saturday. Two, Sindhu had won her quarterfinal against Akane Yamaguchi in straight games while Tai was taken on an emotional three game roller-coaster against Ratchanok Intanon. So, her recovery time was less than a day.
On Saturday, though, what transpired was an inspired Tai against a strangely passive Sindhu. At one point, her coach, Park Tae-Sang, told her to target the paint on either side of the court. By then, though, Tai was living in that rarified zone of devilish flicks, angled drops and barely believable backhands. Some of her drops wouldn’t have been out of place at the ‘Louvre Museum for badminton trickshots’. It started with Sindhu making the right calls: she picked the side (the same one she picked against Yamaguchi). She even began the semifinal on the front foot opening an 8-4 lead. One characteristic of all of Tai’s matches is the number of errors she makes. Those errors from the faster side of the court were quickly adding up. What changed though was Tai’s variations and an inclination to target Sindhu’s body with smashes. In the first game alone, Sindhu was hit at least thrice.
Tai’s pace meant Sindhu was wary of coming forward. That’s when she amped up her net play, twisting and turning the bird according to her whims and fancies. Two consecutive drop winners from 16-14 to level the first game was especially eye-catching. Even then, Sindhu’s determination meant she stayed with her till 18-18 before Tai reeled three quick points — watch out for the around-the-head drop winner for 18-19 — on the highlight reel. It was one of those points that really spelt trouble for Sindhu.
Needing to do something different to stem the tide — players like Tai are dangerous because they can quickly open up a big gap — Park asked Sindhu to start licking the paint during the opening exchanges of the second set. That clearly showed as multiple Sindhu’s errors allowed Tai to open up a 14-8 gap. Coupled with her deception skills from the back court, Sindhu didn’t really stand much of a chance at mounting a fightback. The rest was purely academic as the 27-year-old sped away with the match.
“I’m a bit sad because it’s the semifinals, but I tried my best, it was just not my day. I fought until the end,” Sindhu told BWF after the match. “I was prepared for her skills, so I don’t think that troubled me a lot.”
Now, the challenge for Sindhu, one of very few Indian athletes to have featured in back to back Olympic semifinals, is to prepare for the bronze medal playoff against China’s He Bingjiao. “I think it’s going to be a bit sad but I need to concentrate on that. It’s not over yet. I still have a chance.” If she does take down the Chinese (losing record of 7-9), she will only become the second Indian after Sushil Kumar to win two Olympic medals in an individual event.