Sindhu's transformation has been gradual but evident from the time she recovered from a foot injury last year
Gopichand and Sindhu have paved the way for Indian badminton
The change in Sindhu could not have happened but for Gopichand's tactical nous
BENGALURU: PV Sindhu is quite the allrounder these days. From being a temperamental player who was content answering her impetuosity every time she stepped on the court, the 23-year-old Hyderabad girl now assiduously follows the
gameplans devised by her coach P Gopichand
. And on most occasions, she fine tunes them perfectly to suit the occasion.
Gone are the days when the 10th-ranked Sindhu endured roller-coaster form - bringing top badminton stars to their knees one day and losing to insignificant players the very next. Now, she would rather study her rival before devising a strategy to dominate her. If a stream of returns forced Japan's world No. 6 Nozumi Okuhara to capitulate in the semifinals of the Rio Olympics, a brilliant mix of long and short rallies silenced world No.2 Wang Yihan of China in the quarters.
Sindhu's transformation has been gradual but evident from the time she recovered from a foot injury last year. In the 2015 Denmark Open, one of the many tournaments she played on a comeback trail, she had beaten Tai Tzu Ying (Taipei), Wang Yihan and Spain's Carolina Marin before losing to Li Xuerui in the final. It is sheer coincidence that she bumped into two of them at the Olympics.
Sindhu had two big drawbacks to focus on post injury: one was upping her leg strength to last longer on the court. The second was her defence, which came apart when the returns were aimed at her body or when her opponent traded power for deception and slackened the pace. Apparently, her net game suffered the most in these circumstances.
In Rio, Sindhu showed that she had conquered these blips in the Yihan match. Quicker reflexes and anticipation first nipped the pace that the 28-year-old Chinese generated. Soon, it led to a steady flow of sharp returns before Sindhu began regularly exploring the corners. The deep tosses and flat shots set the tone for a rally before she counterattacked, drawing Yihan back and forth and to the far edges of the court. The half-chances were converted, the smashes and half-smashes cleverly mixed as rallies were prolonged only if she wanted. Sindhu had begun dominating with her midcourt supremacy so well that at one point, Yihan's short serves were swatted with a deft backhand for quick points. The Chinese was well and truly collared.
World No. 1 Marin too adopted a similar ploy in the final: searing pace like Yihan's, bodyline attack and deceptive net play which had to be neutralised. Sindhu tried her hand at counter-attacks too, knowing full well the top seed did not exactly relish such situations. But the pace -low, angular smashes from the southpaw that hugged the net - and the pressure was too much for Sindhu. Indeed, it was the forecourt where the match was won and lost.
The change in Sindhu - one who stuck to a toss-drop routine and a stinging smash at one point of time - could not have happened but for Gopichand's tactical nous. A player who grew up admiring the Chinese style of play and their training methods, Gopi has adapted them admirably to suit Indian players.
A punishing schedule, a healthy mix of training, practice and match exposure which virtually creates an automaton out of players have been his strengths. That Gopi devised a training module for Sindhu when she was injured - she worked on her strokes while seated on the court - shows how far he would go to help his trainees stay in touch.