Se Young proves to be too speedy for PV Sindhu at Korea Open

An Se Young pushes, spasms, rushes and chokes PV Sindhu all at the same time with her fast play that resulted in a 21-14, 21-17 loss for the Indian – her fourth in as many encounters. Ironically, Sindhu can hardly be accused of being slow moving or not being agile or strong or having no fuel in the tank. The 26-year-old Indian is perhaps as well prepared as she can physically take on the ASY challenge. It’s only the badminton decisions, the shots she chooses, the moments she deems appropriate to attack or defend, in her sheer decision-making on the court that she gets stuck.

The Korea Open semi-final is just the latest setback. But it’s obvious that against the likes of Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu Ying, Pornpawee Chochuwong and now An Se Young, Sindhu will need some extra gear. The way they play annoys the Indians because of their speed – how quickly they can get under the shuttle and how quickly hand speed knocks it back. Even Sayaka Takahashi used the pace to confuse Sindhu at All England.

Like the Marin Blitz, plus or minus the deceptions of Tai Tzu and Chochuwong, An Se Young makes an extremely fit Sindhu react slower by comparison. It is comparable to the relative speed of two trains traveling in the same direction, except the Indian is not on the fast line.

So, the Korean’s short serve rushes at Sindhu, her flat throws suffocating her in formation for the air attack, ASY’s streaky net play cuts off that extra second that can help her decide whether to aim for the lob or the dribble. The young Korean simultaneously sprints and hops around like a rabbit pecking at every shuttle in sight, denying Sindhu oxygen and confidence in her attack, which wears off.

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Sindhu was so traumatized from being kept off the lead in the first set at 11-7 that she wildly rammed the shuttle towards the end of the set and helped ASY get to the finish. In the second round, the defense weakened, although fighting to collect points. Saturday’s second set was perhaps the closest yet between the two, with the Indian staying on the hunt until 9-all and bravely stealing three points from the nervous Korean to go up to 17-18 before ASY pulled away.

PV Sindhu needs some extra gear against players like Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu Ying and now Se Young. (Source: AP)

What ASY has successfully managed is not giving Sindhu the length to carve her attack. There are hardly any floaters hanging around midfield and very limited birds that can be winners. Starved of the beatable elevators, Sindhu is prevented from unleashing her favorite point hoarders. The pace of the rally is so high that simply defending against it only prolongs the inevitable. And the youngster, who flexes both arms in celebration when she’s excited about a point, doesn’t often tire. This is also the longest time Sindhu has gone without a setback against one of the top opponents. (See box). And that’s why An Se Young takes on the sharp contours of a nemesis.

This is the second major defeat after Sindhu suffered in the World Tour Finals. And while the Indian has for long stretches not defeated certain opponents whose playstyle worries her (Tai Tzu Ying, 6 times in a row between November 2016 and December 2018 and most recently 5 times since October 2019), ASY seems to have a stranglehold on the Indians , which Sindhu just can’t shake.

Sindhu has never allowed an opponent to build demons of her invincibility in her mind and always finds answers to any braggart sooner or later. However, ASY appears to be a proper Korean mystery that keeps popping up in tournaments large and small, halting Sindhu’s progress.

Srikanth & his puddle of bugs

Jonathan Christie has done it again. After denying HS Prannoy a title in Basel, the Indonesian was back to harass another Indian, Kidambi Srikanth, and earn another place in a tournament final. Srikanth was taken apart by the Asian Games champion 21:19, 21:16 in 49 minutes of the semifinals in Suncheon. Christie may not be as fast as Anthony Ginting, but she also has the mind maps and lithe limbs to lure the winners out from under their opponents’ noses. A fluid, slippery player on the court who anticipates early and uses every inch of the court, Christie refused to be fooled or blinded by Srikanth’s fairly regular cross-net drops in postgame.

The 24-year-old Indonesian played his offensive clears all the way into the corners (which Srikanth retrieved in his favour), not allowing the Indian to calm down and stay within 2 points in the first set before upping the intensity on the clutch.

Non-fancy kills require some mental discipline. A ball ready to be smashed in the middle of the court with the opponent pinned to the baseline must still go over the tape. A ricochet doesn’t need the dramatic bubbling that might send it wide of the field – just because the point is so doable with the opponent back on the wrong flank. On the not-so-rare occasions Srikanth had to pick the easy points, he tended to shoot them wide or net returns. It’s hard to tell if it’s a bloodlust or the desperation to finish the point or the drift playing pranks with his head. But Srikanth’s overheating, which leads to errors, has turned into a colossal problem, eating away at both his momentum and confidence.
Srikanth’s errors combined with Christie’s accuracy meant the Indonesian did what he does best – took a strong first place. The Indian stayed in the game until 12 o’clock in the second but looked disheartened by the huge climb that was expected of him from the Thomas Cup hero from Indonesia who simply knows how to get the job done and win games.

Number of losses before Sindhu’s first win:
0. Against Carolina Marin, Chen Yufei, Pornpawee Chochuwong, Nozomi Okuhara

1. Against Li Xue Rui, Saina Nehwal, Sayaka Takahashi, Akane Yamaguchi

2. Against Tai Tzu Ying, He Bingjiao

3. Against Intanon Ratchanok

4* Vs An Se Young

(* – losing streak has yet to be broken)

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