Malaysia Masters: PV Sindhu’s endgame concerns prop up again as she squanders advantage in final defeat against Wang Zhi Yi | Badminton News

In the decisive phase of her Malaysia Masters final against Wang Zhi Yi, PV Sindhu could score just 5 points while the Chinese racked up 18. The Indian had led 11-3 in the third set at the change of sides before her endgame spectacularly crumbled and she was blown away 16-21 by the Asian Champion. That decider lasted 36 whole minutes and Sindhu played many long rallies in utter vain in that period.

The 21-16, 5-21, 16-21 loss, denying the 28-year-old a title, was the latest exhibit of how things fall apart routinely for the two-time Olympic medallist in recent years at the clutch. She got tired. Her mind went clueless. The opponent pounced on the opportunity and Sindhu just couldn’t stem the flow.

This would not be worrisome had Sindhu been playing badly, making errors, defending tamely or attacking recklessly. But she was playing good strokes, even if the power in them was slightly punctured like a slowly deflating tyre. But she just couldn’t kill a rally with accurate shot selection after switching sides in the third. That’s the phase where Sindhu historically needs a steady stream of pithy instructions from the coaching bench, for she gets sucked into the opponent’s pace and blanks out. She tried this and that, and several other options, tiring herself out, when pinpoint tips would’ve helped her cross the tape.

They split the first two sets, but though Wang won the second, she didn’t carry any particular momentum into the third. Sindhu was still dictating rallies from the favourable side on court. It’s when the ends changed that Wang did two things right – she defended far more stoutly, so even when Sindhu increased her hand speed, the Chinese hung on in the attrition to narrow the gap to 13-15 on an outrageous low pick-up. But before that the Chinese went from 3-11 to 8-11, a run of five straight points, with a mix of dipping drops to the front court and some teasing tosses to the back. It was a pure ploy to sap Sindhu’s endurance.

Like being hypnotized by a harmful harp, Sindhu has been guilty of blindly being drawn into the opponent’s pace in the endgame stages. She simply doesn’t snap out of these and points disappear in a bunch, and suddenly they are breathing at her neck, the leads vamooze from her grasp and they draw level. Wang who was spraying the shuttle all over in the opening set, kept it simple just mixing her placements and added a sprinkling of power. The Chinese went from 8-13 down to leading 15-13 in 7 barely believable point-heists.

Festive offer

Sindhu had played 248 minutes this week till semis, averaging over an hour in each match. Wang Zhi Yi had been on court for 160 (avg 40 mins) including two 39-minute strolls against fellow Chinese. When the decider began, they had both been at it for 43 minutes, so it wasn’t especially surprising that the Indian was tired. But her fitful end-game endurance leading to an unravelling of her game is also down to clueless tactics precisely and bespoke for this phase, which ought to scream, ‘tired, but will destroy you’. It’s that 36 km + second wind after hitting the wall in a marathon, but in badminton it’s also reading the mental geometry of the court.

For Sindhu had begun promisingly. Though Wang wasn’t allowing her leeway at the net by pushing her back with her midcourt drops, Sindhu did well to use the body smashes against the fairly tall 5’7″ Chinese, hitting awkwardly to her hips. Even if the Chinese returned, she was boggled enough when Sindhu sent the next return out of her reach. Wang was also shabby going for the back lines, and it’s how Sindhu pocketed the first.

The drift, some shoring up of her nerves, and tweaking her accuracy gave Wang the second, though that 21-5 scoreline meant the shoot-off of a decider fetched up quick enough. Still, Sindhu did well to race up to 11-3. But the familiar endgame paralysis then struck.

“It’s sad that I didn’t get the result that I expected. I think I should have pulled it off, maintaining the lead (in Set 3), but there were really good rallies and she also came back,” Sindhu told BWF, adding that she was overall happy to make the final after a year.

Sindhu isn’t known to unnecessarily dwell on losses, and her ability to move on to the next challenge and give it a good go, is the reason why she has immense success at the topmost level. Carolina Marin is tantalizingly placed in her quarter of the draw for next week at the Singapore Open, so Malaysia needs no mulling.

“It’s important to get back and maybe just a day off and then be prepared for the next tournament. It’s important that you keep pumping up, you keep pushing yourself, you keep encouraging yourself in these low times. That’s what I can do now at the moment. I mean, it is disappointing, but it is also important to just cheer myself up and, just focus and relax and prepare for the next tournament,” she added.

The final loss means she stays hungry to prove a point. Navigating the endgame though must push her coaching team to dig for solutions.

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