Big-match PV Sindhu enters as slight favourite against dogged Yamaguchi

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PV Sindhu is no stranger to nightmarish draws. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, her last four opponents were Tai Tzu Ying (seeded eighth), Wang Yihan (seeded second), Nozomi Okuhara (seeded sixth) and Carolina Marin (top seed).

While Marin was already a two-time world champion by then and the world no. 1, Wang's bio read former world champion and silver medalist at the previous Olympic games. She was also the player with the most Superseries titles in history. Even the group Sindhu was drawn in was far from straightforward as it had the then reigning Commonwealth Games champion Michelle Li.

Sindhu, though, was unperturbed and played the best badminton of her career until then to beat all of them barring Marin. What made her run even more impressive was the nature of it. She didn't drop a single game in the knockouts (Michelle took a game off her in the group stage) before the final and won the first game in the final too.

Sindhu could have been forgiven for thinking that she would have a kinder draw in Tokyo. As the reigning world champion - she is ranked higher here than she was in Rio - she needs to win six matches to get gold.

She is already halfway there without dropping a game as her draw until now was fairly straightforward. The toughest opponent she faced was world no. 12 Mia Blichfeldt, an opponent who she had only lost once to in five career meetings before this Olympics.

It's the three matches which remain, though, that will give Sindhu a sense of déjà vu.

First up for Sindhu will be the home favourite and fourth-seeded Yamaguchi. If she gets past her, a likely semifinal against Tai (the player with the most women's singles World Tour titles in history and also the woman with the most weeks spent as world no. 1) or former world champion Ratchanok Intanon awaits. Her most likely final opponents are top seed Chen Yufei or former world champion Okuhara.

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So does Sindhu start as the favourite?

While Yamaguchi is seeded two spots higher than Sindhu here, Sindhu has generally reserved her best for the biggest tournaments. Yamaguchi, on the other hand, has been way more consistent on the World Tour but has rarely advanced to the last four at the biggest tournaments. Sindhu has five Worlds, one Olympic and one Asian Games medal in singles, while Yamaguchi only has one medal at the Worlds and one Asian Games medal in singles.

Sindhu leads the overall head-to-head 11-7 but the rivalry has been much closer in recent times. Since the beginning of 2008, Sindhu leads 6-4 but Yamaguchi has won three of their last four matches. The two women have played three quarterfinals against each other in their career, with Sindhu winning two of those three matches. Their most recent match came at the All England Open this year where Sindhu won a tightly-contested match in three games.

Keys to the match

Sindhu's endurance and retrieving abilities are up there with the best but she would be best served to try and keep the points short against Yamaguchi, who has in the past tried to tire Sindhu out by stretching the rallies. At the All England Open, Sindhu didn't have much in the tank after her arduous battle with Yamaguchi and lost in straight games in the semis. With the semis scheduled the next day here as well, endurance might well be an important factor again.

Thirteen of the 18 matches between these two players have been won by the player who takes the opening game, so starting well will be crucial tomorrow. Having been out of competitive action for many months, Sindhu looked slightly rusty in her first match but her sharpness has progressively improved. While she has always had the ability to up the pace of the match, her ability to slow the pace of play down and then suddenly increase it has troubled opponents so far in Tokyo.

Yamaguchi has relied on drawing Sindhu to the net after pushing her deep with clears in the past and Sindhu's net play will be tested again tomorrow as she definitely has more power and weight of shot from the back of the court than Yamaguchi, who's almost a foot shorter than her.


As she has often shown in the past, Sindhu is a big match player and she often gets more difficult to beat as the tournament goes on. Yamaguchi is a dogged retriever with a lethal smash but Sindhu's greater experience at the biggest stage and her greater nous should see her see win this one and maybe set up a semifinal clash against Tai or Intanon.