It was a pity that the badminton women’s singles draw pitched reigning world champion P V Sindhu against world No.5 Japanese Akane Yamaguchi in the quarter finals on Friday, for what was on offer was a 56-minute classic worthy of a final. The strapping Indian had the last laugh with a 21-13, 22-20 win to make the semi-finals, though she is looking good to go all the way.
Sindhu, a silver medallist in Rio 2016, will next face the winner of the other quarterfinal between Thailand’s Ratchanok Inthanon and Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying.
The sixth seeded Indian came into the match with a 11-7 head-to-head count against the Japanese, whom she had last beaten at the All England Championship in March this year.
Yamaguchi, a superfit player, tried to play an aggressive game and was retrieving virtually that Sindhu threw at her but the latter held her ground and used her good anticipation and reach to stay ahead. The Indian brought out her attacking smashes and half smashes whenever there was a chance to put pressure on her rival.
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The opening game saw Sindhu quickly erase a 2-4 deficit to level the scores at 6-6. Yamaguchi committed three back-to-back unforced errors to allow the Indian to move ahead as Sindhu entered the interval at 11-7 with a cross court smash.
In the second game, Yamaguchi, who was lagging 8-13 at one point, grabbed eight of the next nine points to open up a slender one-point lead at 16-15 for the first time in the match.
The only time Yamaguchi, who is known for her retrieving skills, could drag Sindhu into an energy-sapping rally was at 15-13 when the duo had an extraordinary 54-stroke exchange. It ended with Yamaguchi sending the shuttle at the backhand of Sindhu, who looked despondent after losing the point.
With Yamaguchi defending well, Sindhu made a few unforced errors at this point as the Japanese led 18-16. A superb net shot saw Yamaguchi grab two game points, fuelling hope of a turnaround but Sindhu responded with authority. She unleashed a straight-down-the-line smash and then set up another point with a smash and a great follow-up to make it 20-20.
Another precise half smash down the line gave her a match point and the sense of relief for Sindhu was palpable as she screamed her heart out in joy after Yamaguchi hit the net.
Deepika Kumari goes down fighting
Earlier in the day, world No.1 archer Deepika Kumari’s quest for an Olympic medal ended in heartbreak for the third time as she surrendered tamely to Korean top seed An San in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
Deepika misfired four 7s as An, who had broken a 25-year-old Olympic record en route to topping the ranking round, wrapped up the women’s individual match 6-0 in less than six minutes.
For the three-time Olympian Deepika, this was yet another heartbreaking outing at the Games. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, she had lost in the pre-quarterfinals, while at her maiden Olympics in London, where she had gone as a number one ranked player, she had crashed out in the opening round.
Deepika’s husband Atanu Das is the only Indian left in contention for a medal as he made the pre-quarterfinals on Thursday with a stunning shoot-off win over two-time Olympic champion Oh Jin Hyek.
- With inputs from agencies