P V Sindhu scripted history by becoming the first Indian shuttler to reach the finals of the women’s singles competition at the Rio Olympics as she stunned Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in straight games to assure India of at least a silver medal in Rio today.
The two-time World Championship bronze medallist notched up a sensational 21-19 21-10 victory over the All England Champion from Japan in a pulsating semi-final that lasted 49 minutes. The World No. 10 from Hyderabad will next take on two-time World Champion and top seed Carolina Marin of Spain in the summit clash tomorrow. The immensely talented Hyderabadi girl has done a notch better than her illustrious senior Saina Nehwal, who got the country its first medal in badminton — a bronze in London 2012.
Sindhu had a 1-3 head-to-head record against Okuhara but all that went for a toss as the Indian came out with a well-thought-out strategy as she engaged the Japanese in long rallies with her angled returns and deft drops.
In the opening game which lasted 29 minutes, Sindhu opened up a 4-1 lead early on and rode on Okuhara’s unforced errors to extend the advantage to 8-4. A cross-court forehand return after a long rally consisting of 32 strokes helped Sindhu reach 9-6 before the interval, where she had an 11-6 advantage after Okuhara hit long.
Sindhu pushed the Japanese to the corners by playing half smashes and drops, while Okuhara continued to find the net while trying to play the cross-court drops from the baseline. Leading 14-10, Sindhu hit wide and long before coming up with a superb drop even as Okuhara forehand returns. At 16-18, Sindhu failed to negotiate a body return but she again caught hold of the shuttle early using her height and sent it sailing out of Okuhara’s reach. A missed net shot by Okuhara saw Sindhu reach the game point.
What ensued next was a long rally with Okuhara hitting across as the Indian grabbed the opening game after the Japanese found the net. Sindhu once again opened up a 3-0 lead but the Japanese soon clawed back and grabbed a slender 5-3 lead with the Indian finding it difficult to keep the shuttle inside the court. The duo moved neck-and-neck from 5-5 to 8-8. A forecourt deception gave a point to Sindhu but she hit wide again.
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Sindhu retrieved everything that was thrown at her but she rushed on to a stroke to hit the net. At the interval, Sindhu managed a slender 11-10 lead after her return landed at the corner of the court. Sindhu came out all cylinders blazing after the change of sides and reeled off 11 straight points with the help of her array of strokes, which included some brilliant backhand flick and drops, to completely demolish the third seeded Japanese. It was a deceptive return which helped Sindhu reach a massive 10-point match point and then eked her name into the history books with a smash that caught Okuhara at the forecourt. For the record, Marin also entered her maiden Olympic final beating London Olympic champion Li Xuerui 21-14 21-16.