One of PV Sindhu's most unique attributes in the early days of her international badminton career was the jump smash. Pouncing on any wayward clear, the Indian would launch herself skywards and smite the shuttle down at the steepest of angles. What made this weapon so terrifying was the fact that in contrast to the men's game, the jump smash is relatively rare in the women's game.
Over the years, it has become a stroke Sindhu rarely uses. It's incredibly taxing on endurance and she has phased it out, looking to build on her ability to play longer games. But just because few women play it, doesn't mean no one does. Unfortunately for Sindhu, she was on the receiving end of the same explosive barrage she once inflicted on others, at the hands of Thailand's Supanida Katethong.
The 24-year-old, ranked just 33rd in the world, used the shot as a shock weapon bludgeoning her way past the Indian who was the top seed coming into the India Open. Her 21-14, 13-21, 21-10 win in the semifinal on Saturday was her first against Sindhu and will give her a chance to claim her first World Tour 500 title. For Sindhu, the defeat means her title drought-that goes back to 2019 she won the World Championship in Basel -- extends further.
Katethong, who has nothing on the Indian by way of pedigree, was expected to be a stepping stone for the top seed. In their last encounter at the Indonesia Masters in November, she had lost in straight games. Sindhu had held the lead for all but the opening points of both games and the Thai was playing catch up.
On Saturday, the tables turned. Katethong probably took the Indian by surprise, relentlessly attacking from the start. She lost the first point but then reeled off seven in a row. Despite making a couple of service errors, it was clear that she was setting the pace of the match. Sindhu's defence, always the weaker aspect of her game, came undone under the barrage of jump smashes from the diminutive Thai.
Perhaps it was due to the amount of pressure she was under due to her opponent's attacking game, but Sindhu wasn't at her best on Saturday. "The last time we played, my smashes were finding the lines but this time they weren't. My clears were all going to the mid court," Sindhu said after the loss.
Katethong took her chances but it wasn't an unplanned assault. She clearly had a gameplan, forcing shots to Sindhu's forehand corner. And alongside the fiery smashes, there was plenty of deception of the type Sindhu has always struggled against. Take out the jump smashes and the lack of post-shot yelling and Sindhu might have felt she was up against another left-handed terror called Carolina Marin. The Indian was clearly flustered, on one occasion making a line call for a shuttle that landed on the inner half of the back line.
In the second game, Sindhu looked to have found some rhythm as she went into the break marginally ahead at 11-10 and grabbed it 21-13. But it was only a temporary breather. By the third game, Katethong's breath-taking attack was back on display. Sindhu held on close until the halfway mark, but by the end the Thai was winning points at will.
Having wrapped up the biggest win of her career, Katethong was modest. "I tried to control Sindhu's movement and tried not to make mistakes," she said. But as she prepares to win her first big title, against compatriot World number 12 Busanan Ongbamrungphan, she would have gained a massive amount of self-belief.
For Sindhu though, the wait for a title continues. She might have been the favourite in the depleted field in New Delhi, but she'll have to try once again at the Syed Modi Championships next week.