PV Sindhu went prepared for a mosh pit. A spillover of intensity from Friday’s headbanging with Akane Yamaguchi. But Thai youngster Pornpawee Chochuwong set the tone for the harp and a flute.
Lots of aerial deception in her tosses and clears, when the shuttle took forever to come within Sindhu’s pulping range.
The All England Cup was within reach. But the music jarred throughout, as Sindhu went off-key in the semifinals.
Congratulations, Chochuwong!
She’s into the women’s singles final #YAE2021pic.twitter.com/pRkdw5vjHh
Yonex All England Badminton Championships (@YonexAllEngland) March 20, 2021
The windmill arms, drumming away winners, looked sore from Friday night’s exertions. She stormed the net impatiently to finish the challenge, though Chochuwong was sharper there as well and not quite accommodating or allowing Sindhu to dictate the pace.
The advantage of playing the Japanese, who do what they do consistently or better, is that Sindhu can dictate the tempo. The Thai players, bring in precision, but also flair that saw the Indian packed off 21-17, 21-9 in 42 minutes.
“Every player has a weakness,” Chochuwong would say. Sindhu was being deprived of the length and pace to hit. Her inability to adjust to variations in speed within a rally cost her dear.
Chochuwong has a riff of the deceptive Ratchanok’s rhythm, but without the ostentatious beauty of the strokes.“Today I could control (the shuttle) and was a fighter,” she would say later.
So even when Sindhu threatened to close the gap and brought it from 7-14 to within two points of the Thai, Chochuwong would calmly stick to her plan, that on the day was hitting the three lines. Sindhu’s short drops were taken care of by regulation retrieval.
Sindhu had come from a set down to ambush Yamaguchi. The Indian would learn that rushing the Thai – like she crowded the Japanese at 19-all in the decider, was not going to work against this one.
One reason why Sindhu would claim to be “upset” after the match was the relative newness of this challenger. Chochuwong is a rookie on the brink of Top 10. Badminton’s Top 10 is now pedigreed excellence, with the Top 7 genuine contenders for any title.
The first women’s singles semi-final didn’t disappoint
Reaction from both players #YAE2021pic.twitter.com/ngDYYwVvCB
Yonex All England Badminton Championships (@YonexAllEngland) March 20, 2021
What the top bracket is acutely reminded often is that there are those knocking on the doors of that elite club, and the Japanese and Thais lead the way.
Speaking to the Olympic Channel last year, Chochuwong had spoken of how deeply she was influenced by Ratchanok’s playing style and fighting spirit. “I’m already 22,” she would tell the interviewer, aware that she needed to break through soon enough to become a serious contender.
What she has done in the last 12 months is pouncing upon weaknesses with her persistent and skillful and cerebral game – be it Marin, Tai Tzu Ying or even Ratchanok. And Sindhu at the All England on Saturday. Ranked 11 and still young, without injury concerns, Chochuwong can be a dark horse at Tokyo should she secure qualification. Women’s singles has a tight race at the top and some seriously driven youngsters snapping at heels with unblemished spirits prancing on sprightly feet.
Even Yamaguchi who reckoned she could’ve beaten Sindhu on Friday had she not been rushed, is part of the pack that is hitting the international circuit (after a layoff) far more evolved and ready to hit the ground running, something that can upturn Tokyo predictions. Sindhu was 21, Marin 22 when they played finals at Rio.
While the victory over Yamaguchi was spirited, Sindhu has struggled to be flexible with her gameplans if she can’t dictate the play. Against Yamaguchi she amped the pace and forced the Japanese to play to her strengths – the speed game.
But against Marin at the Swiss finals and in the semis at Birmingham, Sindhu is struggling to wipe clean the drawing board and quickly switch to an alternate.
While it may be diagnosed as tactical agility, there is also the problem of recovery from the previous day’s game when there isn’t adequate time to rest between back to back business-end games.
So, she can beat Yamaguchi imposingly, but she won’t necessarily have fuel to expend to deal with another variety of player the next day. If Tokyo goes ahead without stadiums at full capacity, the court drifts are going to remain whimsical. She can control the shuttle, but not a fast morphing opponent who comes prepared with plans to nail down her weakness in a stadium that is whirlpooling away.
Being mentally flexible about her gameplans is necessary, and she will need to prop up her fitness. Coach Park can guide her when she needs some geeing up. But not always when she needs to work her way back against an opponent who’s taking off the pace.