Published: August 29, 2018 12:25:36 am
Maybe PV Sindhu’s power was not enough. Maybe Saina Nehwal’s prudence proved to be a little inadequate. Or perhaps – and coach Pullela Gopichand needn’t be put in a penitents’ confessional box for saying this – Tai Tzu Ying was just too perfect for India’s combined might of women’s badminton. The Asian Games title remained a 21-13, 21-16 margin away from a Gold with Sindhu wound in knots by the world’s most complete player.
Sindhu was soundly beaten in 39 minutes – committing errors that might’ve come from her racquet, but were remote-steered by Tai Tzu Ying – the Bluetooth of badminton. The unintended happy consequence of a disappointing Sindhu defeat was the realisation that it would take some combined thinking to counter the Tai attack in the future.
“There’s no gap between Tai and us,” Sindhu would try bravely. The world has figured that it’s easier thought than actually plotted, like Gopichand found out over two days. Two days that made it plainly clear that Nehwal, Sindhu and Gopichand would need to crack and plot this together. “We are going to break that,” Sindhu said after stats threw up the numbers 11-5 against Sindhu and 10-3 against Nehwal for Tai.
“It’s not easy, but if we work on mistakes, we can do it,” she’d add. Sindhu has lost 5 times to Tai after her Rio win, and Nehwal has 6 defeats since her return from injury. If these numbers don’t throw the Indian coach and his wards into a joint huddle, nothing else will.
It’s pretty much the only option if you weed out all unproductive chatter that accompanies all the historic firsts for Sindhu: first Indian to claim Asiad silver, first at World’s, first at Olympics. The coach was proud of India’s first double medallists at the Asian Games – Nehwal consistently beating her rankings to finish on the top-4 podiums, and Sindhu logging in her usual runners-up trophy – India’s most taken for granted silver.
“We have to be positive and keep working. These matches are hard, and you will feel bad about losing them but you keep losing and you keep learning,” she would say, not buying into the scepticism that’s rich for a country which has never medalled at the biggies before.
In the match, Sindhu would fail to find her rhythm entirely, done in not just by the deception but the power and speed of the diminutive dazzling opponent. It was when things were slipping out of her hands like flat noodles slide over chopsticks that Sindhu would pour some sizzling sambhar into what was till then a bland one-sided final.
Points till then had been short – uncharacteristically snappy by one of the most shy and polite shuttler on the circuit. Sindhu was barely sneaking in a few of her own when she could draw errors pushing Tai back and getting her to sail them long. Otherwise it was all parallels and crafty drives that left Sindhu impatient and crumbling, struggling to hold onto composure or rhythm. Tai would dominate the net, play her delectable drops and extract easy points.
Tai draws errors out of opponents like table-shakers sprinkle out salt and pepper — it all topples out in bits and in a mad rush. Sindhu was left tasting the salty taste of sweat and tears after offering them in a bunch and at the most inopportune times – right after she had caught up. As such, it was the Indian playing catch up throughout and never really getting a look-in as Tai claimed her first big title as No 1. Taiwan had been hoping for this medal, plotting every bit of the week — Tai Tzu – who abhors crowds – stayed at the Sultan Hotel, adjacent to the Istora, away from the mad rush of the Athlete’s Village. A home cook accompanied Tai’s support staff to cook Taiwanese food, as the country hoped to put the cherry on the Taiwanese orange zest Old Fashion Sponge Cake.
She would tell the Taiwanese press later that she had prepared specifically against the Top 10 players, though coach Chien Chen lai would express his surprise at what 2018’s thrown up. “I didn’t expect her to be World No.1 and Asian Games champion so soon. We just go to practice everyday and work on her game. There’s no pressure on her,” he would say, when quizzed on how the team had reacted after Tai Tzu went out of the quarters of the World’s.
While Sindhu needs to cut down on her mistakes – though she started 0-5 and trailed pretty much all along – coach Gopichand would be pragmatic in his assessments. “Tai played well, there were only a few rallies where Sindhu looked in the game. We can be disappointed but the fact is that we have won a silver and bronze,” he would say.
Longer rallies were the obvious tactic, he’d say, adding in a match long rallies could slow Tai down but the pace she played, didn’t give Sindhu much of a chance. “In a big tournament, pressure is there, it’s not easy to control your natural instinct of hitting,” he would say of an aggressive player who has been forced to make her malleable enough to handle the defensive players while even reaching the finals. What’s lost on most is how hard-earned the silver itself is. “We need to go back and work. At the end of the day we all love to win gold, Sindhu would want that she wins too and people stop talking like this. But to come back from World Championships and Asian Games with silver consistently is enough to be proud of. Skeptics will always be there, say what they have to. Hopefully we revise this result in the future,” he’d add.
On the day though very little would stop Tai Tzu Ying from start pulling her weight as the world’s top-ranked player, and a shuttler Gopichand would call “the most deceptive player in women’s singles history.”
The coach though would insist there was more to her than being a wrist-whiz confounding players to move this way or that, forward or back. “There is deception, power, speed and reach. To be deceptive you also have to have the other qualities. Tai Tzu can run, she has a strong physique that supports endurance and speed, and that together wins championships.”
There’s a reason why PV Sindhu, has pulled herself back from each of those finals losses and worked up steam to dream all over again and make yet another final. There’s a reason why her shoulders don’t slump week after Big meets week, and why she smiles those tight smiles on the podiums, soaking in the punches even while she goes further than any Indian did. As a top athlete, forgetting is fundamental, he believes.
So, Sindhu has been trained to forget. From tournament to tournament. From match to match. “After a loss, you should not think about both the matches you have won and what happens tomorrow. Players have routines for physical recovery in which you are fully involved and are in the present moment. That takes care of the emotional recovery.” It’s not the last you’ve heard of Sindhu in a final, though it’s not the first you’ll hear of Tai Tzu Ying wiping up all opposition.
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