Subdued Sindhu makes first round exit at All England championships

By, New Delhi
Mar 15, 2023 09:57 PM IST

The double Olympic medallist lost in straight games to China’s Zhang Yi Man, extending her poor start to the year after a bright 2022.

It has been two months since PV Sindhu returned to action after a five-month layoff due to a stress fracture on her left foot. While 2022 turned out to be her best year on the BWF World Tour – she ended a 29-month title drought and ended up winning four titles – it has been an entirely contrasting run in 2023.

Indian badminton player PV Sindhu plays against Thailand's Supanida Katethong at the India Open 2023(PTI)
Indian badminton player PV Sindhu plays against Thailand's Supanida Katethong at the India Open 2023(PTI)

In all the three individual tournaments Sindhu has played since her return to the tour, the 27-year-old has made first round exits – Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, and now Birmingham.

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It was clearly evident on Wednesday that the former world champion was far from her best, struggling to retrieve and even attack, floundering in rallies which she would dominate and win even when not at her best. Eventually, the double Olympic medallist lost 17-21, 11-21 to China’s Zhang Yi Man in the opening round of the All England Open Badminton Championships.

Known for upping the ante in major tournaments, Sindhu’s wait for an elusive crown in the Super 1000 tournament continues as her challenge lasted only 39 minutes at Arena Birmingham.

For the first time in seven years, Sindhu, the Commonwealth Games champion, was not seeded at the prestigious $1.25 million tournament. The Chinese world No 17 coped well against Sindhu’s drops, following up with drops of her own. Known to take full advantage of her height, Sindhu tried but was not always able to reach out for the net drops, resulting in several points for Zhang, who held a 1-1 record before the match.

Sindhu fought hard to keep the contest neck-and-neck in the first game but made several uncharacteristic errors. Despite that, occasional moments of brilliance helped Sindhu take a 16-13 lead. But just when Sindhu looked like she was pulling away, the 26-year-old Zhang, who won bronze at the 2021 World Championships, won seven points on the trot to have four game points, converting the second to edge ahead in the contest.

The second game was one-way traffic with the bird landing in Sindhu’s court more often than not. Zhang – the fifth highest ranked Chinese player –made Sindhu toil, making her run from one end of the court to the other. Sindhu’s special ability to change the pace of shots at will was also missing, which led to the world No 9’s loss.

"I was just playing in patches. In the first set, I was leading 16-14 and from there, I gave her continuous points. I gave her the lead at the start of the second set. I just took points in patches and that should have changed. It’s sad to lose in the first round but it's time to go back and learn from my mistakes and try not to repeat those again. That will definitely make a lot of difference,” Sindhu was quoted as saying by Badminton England.

Though Zhang also made errors, she was the more stable player of the two with Sindhu playing catch up most of the time. The Chinese shuttler also displayed her athletic abilities with some acrobatic saves, making sure she remained in command for the entire second game.

Sindhu will next play in the Swiss Open next week where she is the defending champion. She will return to Basel where Indian badminton reached its zenith when the double Olympic medallist was crowned world champion four years ago.

“Today was disappointing, but it’s important to come back stronger. I prefer my next tournament, the Swiss Open. I’m completely fit physically, but mentally it’s going to take some time,” said Sindhu.

Earlier in the day on the same court, women’s doubles pair Treesa Jolly and P Gayatri Gopichand caused one of the upsets of the day, beating Thai seventh seeds Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai 21-18, 21-14 in 46 minutes. It is their first win in five meetings against the world No 8 pair.

It was at the same tournament last year that the world No 17 pair created ripples after unexpectedly making the semi-finals. Promoted from the reserve list after five withdrawals, Treesa and Gayatri beat the Tokyo Olympics gold medallists and then the World Championships silver medallists before losing in the last four.

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    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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