PV Sindhu fails to crack southpaw Takahashi code at All England

PV Sindhu stuttered to a halt at the All England, where she has rarely ever seemed like contending for the title. But the 19-21, 21-16, 17-21 loss on Thursday to southpaw Sayaka Takahashi will leave her a little agitated and forlorn, and pausing for a breath before she returns to her default setting of peak bouncebackability. Sindhu didn’t narrowly get edged out in this one. She simply struggled to assert control through the wild swinging scoreline.

There was no lack of effort, but neither a clear plan on how to stem the opponent’s race towards the finish line. This wasn’t a straight set drubbing emanating from indifferent form either. It was a proper three-set back-forth with a very distinct worrisome wobble in the end.

Sindhu – like the rest of the right handed world – can get a little disoriented when the left handed gets going. Carolina Marin uses that to the hilt, besides her scorching speed. Supanida Katethong used the angles in combination with deception at the India Open where Sindhu, a title-favorite, was tripped up. She returned a week later at Lucknow to settle scores. But Sayaka Takahashi wasn’t expected to pose the mighty troubles that come from being blindsided by a mirror image illusion sending back the shuttle in 3D.

The two have played each other 8 times prior, sharing a 4-4 head to head history. And Sindhu has dished out a 21-7 scoreline in one of her dominant shows. The last two occasions though, Sindhu had been defeated before the All England.

The matchup needed Sindhu to get a sense of the opponent’s shots, and the whirlwind drift calculations from either side. As the match progressed, Sindhu got a grip on how the bird was traveling. Sure the first set went the Japanese ‘way, and Sindhu slipped up a bit between 11-9 and catching up at 15. But it wasn’t a calamitous – the 21-19 opening score.

She couldn’t catch up in the opener, but with a 14-4 lead, she was well on her way to restoring parity in the second, playing her shots with a spring in her step, and ready to forget about having conceded the lead. . What trailing by a set might’ve done to her psychologically will never be known, because her counter punching was prompt.

But again, post interval in the second, there was a flagging of alertness which allowed Takahashi a respectable, not too threatening 21-16 hope. Japanese players – remember Nozomi Okuhara – do not waste such opportunities.

What perhaps lacked in the second set was the sort of ruthlessness that would’ve shut the door decisively on Takahashi. Sindhu wasn’t frugal enough at that point.

The Indian started Set 3 with great intent. There were the magnificent over the head smashes laced with sweet intoxicating deception and there was a general sense of being in control, and being in striking distance to push the gears. But post-interval, Sindhu floundered once again.

A narrow 11-10 lead for Takahashi ballooned into a 15-10 yawning gap, putting Sindhu under scoreboard pressure. These are treacherous passages of play for the Indian if she isn’t overtly confident of her aggression and powerplay seeing her through. Sindhu can appear blank in finishing out if she loses a tiny initiative or control over the rally. And that’s exactly how the cookie crumbled.

It’s happened against Pornpawee Chochuwong in 2021 and at the All England semis last year and the Olympics too, where Sindhu freezes at that juncture. She continues playing fluid strokes and fights like a woman possessed. She even has an almighty glorious last throw of the dice. But it’s like an unmanned train wreck with brakes not in her control when she attempts to close out the decider after a huge conceded lead.

She made a match of it, edging closer at 17-18. But Takahashi was no mug, and pulled away, driving in the knife, to put it past the Indian. Another All England come and gone, and it is inexplicable why a well-rounded game and a sharp attack doesn’t find the last nip of menace at Birmingham.

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