Breaking Down PV Sindhu’s First Round Exit at the All England Open
Korean world number 10 Sung Ji Hyun consigned the Indian star to an early flight back home after an 81-minute clash.
It’s not been a happy start to the year for the reigning queen of Indian badminton.
PV Sindhu – Olympic and World Championship silver medallist, and the prime contender to end India’s 18-year wait for a title at the All England Championships – crashed out in the opening round of the 2019 edition on Wednesday, 6 March.
The fifth seed was ousted after a gruelling 16-21, 22-20, 18-21 defeat to world number 10 Sung Ji Hyun of South Korea on the first day of action at Birmingham.
While she didn’t bow down without a fight – Sindhu saved as many as eight match points over the course of the 81-minute encounter, including five in the deciding game – the loss extended a patchy record for the 23-year-old at the prestigious tournament, where she has now reached the quarter-finals or beyond only twice in six main draw appearances.
Fine Margins, Not So Fine Moments
While it wasn’t quite the bruising battle of the epic narrative that Sindhu has become accustomed to in recent times (think the Olympic final against Carolina Marin, or that World Championship final against Nozomi Okuhara in 2017), it was a tough scrap to get into, in what was her first competitive appearance in over a month, and only her second this year.
Since her exit in the quarter-finals of the Indonesia Masters to Marin on 25 January, Sindhu’s only on-court appearance was at the nationals in Guwahati, where she lost the title clash to Saina Nehwal for the second year running.
The draw wasn’t particularly kind on the BWF World Tour Finals champion either; Sung Ji Hyun was the first competitor outside the eight seeds at the event, ranked 10th in the world – and a top-five player until as recently as December 2017.
The contest ended up being quite the attritional affair.
Sindhu picked up an early lead – 5-2, and then 6-4 – in the first game, but hadn’t really settled into any sort of momentum. Wayward returns and incomplete smashes – a regular feature through the three games – would allow Sung to claw back, and from 13-all, the Korean distanced herself by capitalising on Sindhu’s rising error-count.
The Indian ace did pick her game up in the second – from the depths of despair, at that.
A fluctuating game had once again seen the players locked at 13-all, before Sung, just like the opener, pulled away to lead 20-17. But in a sensational swing, Sindhu saved all three match points – and won five in a row to take the tie all the way.
In the decider, she saw a 9-7 lead dissipate as Sung won an astonishing eight points on the trot. Down 13-20, Sindhu appeared done and dusted, but rallied to win five points in a row and raise hopes of a miracle. But the Korean finally converted a match point – at the ninth time of asking – to pull the plug on Sindhu’s campaign.
In the final calculation, Sung’s relentless attack on the backhand back-court, coupled with an unexpectedly high percentage of blunders off the Indian’s racket, paved the way to an early exit for Sindhu.
Sindhu Out: What She Said
“I think I could have not given her big lead at the starting. It was too many points and it was difficult to cover.”
“It was my bad luck probably as my mid court smashes were going to net. I was just hitting out but overall it was good match and she played well. She has good anticipations and there were long rallies.”PV Sindhu
“I had trained enough but it was just not my day. Such matches keep happening and I have to take it as a challenge and come back stronger.”
All at Sea at All England?
As referenced above, the All England Open hasn’t been a stage to remember for Sindhu.
Having built a reputation of going the distance at big-ticket competitions, the 23-year-old will doubtless be irked by her track record at the venue of her coach’s most famous triumph.
Three first-round exits, and one more in the second, don’t make good reading for a player with 11 BWF titles and a further 14 runners-up finishes across tour and global events.
That it comes in a tournament which is one of only three BWF World Tour Super 1000 events on the calendar – the highest grade outside of the World Championships – potentially adds to sense of frustration.
Looking at the past couple of years, though, one could set her latest early crash as an abberration: Sindhu’s losses in 2017 and 2018 only came to world number one Tai Tzu Ying and world number two Akane Yamaguchi, respectively.
What will bother her, from her lofty standards, is the sluggish start to her season – a quarter-final exit at Indonesia, defeat to Nehwal at the nationals, and now the All England ouster.
The shot at turning the tide comes soon, and in home confines. Sindhu’s next assignment is the Indian Open, a Super 500 event, in New Delhi in the final week of March.
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