Prime Sports, International (London), March 16:- P V Sindhu jostled past her famous rival Nozomi Okuhara of Japan 20-22, 21-18, 21-18 to enter the semi-final of All England Championships in Birmingham on Friday.
In a yet another tedious battle that lasted for an hour and 24 minutes, Sindhu trumped Okuhara to level their overall head-to-head record 5-5.
Sindhu will next face the winner of the other women’s singles match between Spain’s Carolina Marin and second seed Akane Yamaguchi of Japan. Both these opponents, Sindhu will know won’t make it any easy for her. She lost the famous Rio Olympics final to Marin in three games while she went down fighting against Yamaguchi in the final of Dubai Super Series Finals last year.
The quarter-final of the All England on Friday was another added chapter to an ever-growing rivalry between Sindhu and Okuhara. A rivalry which dates back to their junior days has set the women’s singles circuit ablaze in the past one and a half years.
There is never a favourite when these two face each other. Back in 2016 Olympics, Sindhu romped past Okuhara in the semi-final but the Japanese came back to avenge that by winning the epic World Badminton Championships final last year. Sindhu, thereafter, took revenge in the 2017 Korea Open final, which was yet another pulsating contest, only for Okuhara to then beat her in straight games in 2017 Japan Open in September.
In Birmingham on Friday, it must have been all flashbacks for both the players, the only difference being the two fought tooth and nail right from the beginning. While a Sindhu-Okuhara contest is known for its long rallies, the All England quarter-final had long duels from the very first point of the match.
Right from the first game, the two alternated points in the literal sense of the word. Neither was ready to give the other an inch of space and they exchanged shuttles in all corners of the court.
On the right, on the left, deep in the backcourt, close to the net, fast exchanges to patient points, the match kept swinging and the scoreboard seemed like a pendulum.
While Okuhara deployed the same strategy of forcing Sindhu to lunge forward every now and then, some of Sindhu’s flat smashes were simply brilliant. Apart from playing to her strengths, Sindhu exhibited a repertoire of new strokes. From deceptive drop shots and steep cross-court smashes to solid defence and beautiful net shots, Sindhu showed it all. (What more can PV Sindhu do to win some gold medals in 2018?)
With Okuhara winning the first game 20-22 and Sindhu taking the second 21-18, the match, as expected, went into the decider. The match was surely living up to its billing.
The final game seemed no different with both the players giving it their all for each and every point. Despite an edgy battle, Okuhara went into the break with an 11-10 lead over Sindhu.
After the break, Okuhara took some smart points, forcing Sindhu to throw the shuttles long and wide, and raced to a 14-11 lead. With Okuhara taking a 16-12 lead, Sindhu shifted gears to close down Okuhara with each stroke and levelled the score 16-16.
From there, the two kept close till 18-18. Sindhu had suddenly found the innate energy and she kept setting herself up with stunning all-court display and finished with brilliant steep smashes.
At 20-18, a quick exchange of shuttles followed and Sindhu lifted the shuttle to the right frontcourt near the line, Okuhara failed to reach it and the shuttle was called in.
And with that, Sindhu completed a stunning comeback story! (MR, Inputs: Agencies).