PV Sindhu looks to begin new Olympic cycle with maiden Denmark title

PV Sindhu Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

PV Sindhu's Instagram post of her travelling with coach Park Tae-Sang - all clouds, goofy face and windmills a few days ago -- could've easily been mistaken for a snapshot out of a vacation. A trip to Odense for the Denmark Open Super 1000, only her fifth tournament in a pandemic-wreaked year (outside the Olympics) and her first since the Tokyo bronze medal, must feel like a long while in coming.

With top seed and reigning Olympic champion Chen Yufei pulling out, Sindhu is now the highest seeded player in her half of the draw. The other half features the only two other players seeded above her - Akane Yamaguchi and Ratchanok Intanon. The Indian double-Olympic medallist, who was untroubled in her opener against Turkey's Neslihan Yigit, could face her first tricky opponent in fifth seed An Se-young in the quarterfinals. Sindhu had lost to her in Odense two years ago. The young Korean also got the better of Carolina Marin at the World Tour Finals in January this year and upset Yamaguchi in the Uber Cup finals last week. An Se-young though appeared to be in some visible discomfort from a pulled hamstring during her first-round match win on Monday.

Playing on a non-televised court, Sindhu steamrolled through her match in 30 minutes and next faces Thailand's Busanan Ongbamrungphan, whom she's beaten on both occasions they've faced each other this year. The Indian, currently ranked No. 4 in the world, took a three-week break from training after the Olympics, resuming on-court sessions and maintenance training (low intensity, fewer sets and reps) last month.

Between now and the end of the year, Sindhu is likely to play at least five tournaments culminating in the World Championships, where she'll go in as defending champion. She has added few more arrows to her quiver, as was on display in Tokyo - the loopy drops, assured net lifts and patient retrieving. The thing about Sindhu, as those working with her closely attest, is the ability to put behind the wins and medals soon enough to return to grunt work. "After Olympic medal No. 2, you sometimes expect an athlete to perhaps drop in focus or intensity. Not Sindhu," says a member of her team. "She's been pretty much similar in her outlook after both Rio and Tokyo in not wanting to make a big deal of her medals in her head. She's already moved on to her next goal, Paris 2024."

Sindhu has never won the Denmark Open title, one of the oldest tournaments on the circuit. Her best finish came as a runner-up in 2015. It was her first Super Series final, one that had her beat world No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying, Wang Yihan and Marin. A two-time Olympic medallist today, Sindhu finds herself in a field that will be missing both of last year's tournament finalists - Nozomi Okuhara and Marin. While the Japanese is yet to show up at a competition since her quarterfinal loss at the Tokyo Games, Marin, who underwent an ACL surgery and skipped the Olympics, posted an on-court training video of herself on Monday, marking her recovery possibly in time for December's World Championships in her hometown, Huelva.

If Sindhu does manage to avoid upsets and make a run into the final this weekend where Yamaguchi or Intanon would be likely lying in wait, the title could be hers for the taking.