PV Sindhu's drought against Carolina Marin continued, as the Indian lost her semifinal clash against the former Olympic and World Champion in the Denmark Open Super 750 by a 18-21, 21-19, 7-21 scoreline. However, this was a much-improved showing from Sindhu despite the loss, as it was a closely fought contest right until the decider.
Prior to this encounter, Sindhu and Marin had faced each other 15 times, with Marin winning ten of those games - including their last four meetings. Sindhu's last win over Marin came all the way back in 2018 at the Malaysia Open.
Sindhu had taken a convoluted path to the semifinal, requiring three games to beat world no. 28 Kirsty Gilmour of Scotland in the first round, before a tight win over Gregoria Mariska Tunjung of Indonesia in the second round. Her quarterfinal win over Supanida Katethong, an opponent whom the Indian had struggled against in the recent past, was much more comfortable - taking only 47 minutes in a 21-19, 21-12 win.
Marin had reached the semifinal on the back of a hugely impressive win over Tai Tzu Ying, with the Spaniard noting she had changed her warm-up to be more explosive.
Yet, the Spaniard's opening against Sindhu wasn't as explosive - the pair trading points to start. The first game was a battle of two equals as the former world champions did not let either take a lead greater than two points, right until the end. Sindhu and Marin were producing a display from the same playbook, employing unreturnable smashes at the body after moving their opponent back and forcing a lift. However, Marin was slightly more erratic than Sindhu, finding the net and going long on multiple occasions, as she trailed 10-11 at the interval.
The Spaniard is never one to be counted out however, and her yell after clawing it back to 11-12 had chair umpire Daniel Wolf telling both players to tone down their celebrations. Sindhu and Marin shared the leads in a see-saw contest as the first game reached its climax. The Indian raised hopes with an unreturnable, 403kmph smash right into Marin's body to lead 18-17, but Marin returned the favour in the next three points to take a 20-18 lead. The final point saw Sindhu twisting herself into knots as Marin moved her around, sealing the point with a perfunctory smash and taking the first game.
Marin had never lost to Sindhu after winning the first game, but a truly terrible start to the second saw her trail 2-8 in no time. Sindhu was at her aggressive best, forcing Marin into defensive returns (and plenty of errors) and capped it off with a trademark cross-court smash to make it 11-3 at the change of ends.
The break saw the Marin switch from a defensive outlook to an aggressive one and it paid immediate dividends, with the Spaniard winning the next seven points to claw the gap back to 10-11. A flurry at the net stemmed the tide and Sindhu found her feet again, raising the pace to lead 16-12 and also employing soft hands at the net to lead 20-16. A formality against most opponents, but Marin kept at it, with an incredible reverse return that morphed into a winning smash saw her save three game points. Sindhu, however closed out the game with a backcourt smash that Marin was unable to reach, forcing a decider.
Marin's decibel levels rose, as did her technical level in the final game as she quickly raced to a 8-2 lead employing her entire arsenal of smashes, drops and varying her pace in the rallies. It served to frustrate Sindhu and there was a brief fracas after Marin reached into Sindhu's side to scoop the shuttle, resulting in an argument between the pair and yellow cards for unsportsmanlike conduct handed to both players.
Sindhu was very clearly off her game, and what had been a competitive encounter turned into a procession as Marin rattled off point after point, with luck deserting the Indian as net-cords went the Spaniard's way as well. The final point saw Sindhu send a limp return into the net, followed by an almighty yell from Marin as she won their 70-minute encounter to reach the final.
For Sindhu, it was another loss against Marin, but her performances have given a glimpse of her old best - which will come as some relief as the Paris Olympics in 2024 looms ever closer.