20/11/2016 9:02 AM IST | Updated 20/11/2016 9:54 AM IST

PV Sindhu All Set To Prove That Rio Was Not A Flash In The Pan, This Time In China

Will she find her Midas touch?

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
PV Sindhu action against Bae Yeon JU of Korea during the India Open Badminton quarter final.

In the world of badminton, nothing gives more satisfaction than beating the best in China, the powerhouse of the sport. Therefore it is only apt that Fuzhou provides Pusarla Venkata Sindhu the chance to prove that Rio was not a flash in the pan.

It wasn't easy. South Korean Sung Ji Hyun is ranked one place higher than Sindhu but had a 3-5 win-loss record before coming into Saturday's semi-final. Sung was clearly the better player in the first game and fought very hard in the following two. The scoreline said the story of the match as Sindhu held her nerves and her game to win 11-21, 23-21, 21-19. Sindhu will face Sun Yu of China in the final on 20 November.

This is not a mean feat. This will be the third consecutive final at this high-profile superseries where an Indian woman will be in the final. Saina Nehwal won the title in 2014 and lost the 2015 final to Li Xuerui. Sindhu will set up the grudge match for India on Sunday.

This was the first event in which India's best women shuttlers - Saina and Sindhu - were taking part together since the Rio Olympics. If Saina had not lost her first round encounter, there was the tantalizing prospect of the two Hyderabadis meeting in the quarter-finals. That did not happen as Saina returned from an injury, surgery and rehab, losing to Thailand's Porntip Buranaprasertsuk in three games. A first round exit is not something Saina is used to. The last time Saina, at present world number 6, had lost in the first round was two and a half years ago.

Before flying off to China, Saina perhaps in a moment of deep introspection or frustration, had told ESPN that she will be more than happy if people think she is finished. "Many people will think my career will end and I won't come back. I also think somewhere deep in my heart that maybe it is the end of my career,'' she said.

That gave an indication of the mental frame she was in. Prolonged injuries, rehab and missing the action can do that to any sportsperson who likes to be on top of things at all times.

Not that brooding is new to Saina. A string of losses in 2011 had reduced her to tears and she spoke of quitting the game. It was in that moment of utter despair that Saina and Gopichand promised to give the London Olympics their best shot and she went on to win the bronze. Likewise, Saina had thought of bidding goodbye to badminton in 2014 after several lacklustre performances. Saina at that stage had begun to feel that she was giving up without putting up a fight, which was the hallmark of her game. The shift to Bengaluru to train under Vimal Kumar's tutelage did her a world of good as she went on to become world number one.

It is to Saina's credit that she saw the glass half full rather than half empty after her exit at the China Open. "So happy to be playing again at the highest level," she tweeted. It was important for Saina to be in the mix of things, to tell the world not to write her off yet. Saina is mentally very strong and in the months to come, against younger competition with fitter legs, she will have to draw on all her experience and guile on court to taste victory.

Sindhu was under pressure as well. Post Rio, she suffered two successive second round exits at the Denmark Open and the French Open. That raised questions if the plethora of felicitations after the Olympic feat had left her with little time for training and taken her focus off her game.

Fuzhou was proof that Sindhu has upped her game. But National coach Pullela Gopichand still does not believe she is still "the best of what she can be''. Gopichand says, "There is scope for a lot of improvement tactically, mentally and physically and that gives us hope.''

That India's best two have made it a hat-trick of final appearances at the China Open says a lot of about the quality of the Indian challenge. From the 90s when most Indian shuttlers lost the match in the mind if the opponent was a Chinese to now standing up to them in their own den, is a remarkable journey. Sunday is an opportunity for India's Silver girl to find her Midas touch.

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