With her defence finally firing, PV Sindhu managed to unlock the power game of Katethong Supanida, and avenged her loss to the same opponent in the India Open last week with a tough 11-21 21-12 21-17 win in the quarterfinals of the Syed Modi Championships on Friday.
It had been a tight game, as the score shows. At 17-17 in the decider, you could feel something had to give. That point had been a classic example of how the Thai player had been causing so much trouble to the two-time Olympic medalist over the last couple of weeks.
Supanida had pounced on a tentative lift from Sindhu, jumped to meet it not very long after it began its downward trajectory and sent the shuttle screaming to her opponent's backhand. Sindhu managed to return it but in the second act of the Thai player's trick she met the shuttle as it passed just over the net and softly dropped it into the now free real estate on Sindhu's forehand with a delicate cross court flick. At the India Open last week, Supanida had utilized this combination of strokes to upset the top seeded Indian and with the score reading a set apiece, looked to be doing the same this time around though.
It looked that way about three-fourths of way into the next point. Supanida found a loose lift and again powered off the court to attempt another jump smash winner. Instead of targeting the tramlines, though, she went for her opponent's body. Almost purely out of instinct, Sindhu jabbed at the shuttle and sent it back. It wasn't the best return and Supanida once again went for another jump smash. But perhaps taken by surprise that she unexpectedly had to work that little bit more, Supanida smashed the shuttle into the middle of the net.
Her surge was broken and over the next three points it was Sindhu who went on the offensive. Sindhu earned three match points with a cross court smash to the Thai's backhand, but needed only one to complete the win an hour and five minutes after the match started.
While she had sealed it with a powerful smash, it was Sindhu's improved defence that was critical to her turning things around. In their last encounter, Sindhu was taken aback by the ferocity of Supanida's aggressive approach and ended up playing the sort of cautious game that further enabled her opponent.
It had seemed like Friday's encounter in Lucknow was going the same way. Supanida started the match almost exactly where she'd left off in New Delhi with a jump smash winner to Sindhu's forehand corner. Right after that, with Sindhu committing to the back court, she played a clever backhand net winner. The Indian compounded the matter by playing a spree of unforced errors, dropping the first game in just 15 minutes.
Sindhu returned with a more aggressive mindset in the change of ends. Giving away fewer high lifts, she went out trying to find her own winners. Under pressure for the first time in the match, Supanida had a smaller margin of error for her own strokes and that gave Sindhu's defence just the breathing room it needed to be able to find its way into the match.
That was critical. Ahead of the India Open, Sindhu's coach Park Tae-sang had said that while Sindhu's attack was something he was always confident in, it was her defensive ability that was the deciding factor in her matches. While it was all but missing in New Delhi, it slowly came into its own in Lucknow.
Supanida's jump smash no longer earned easy winners and Sindhu managed to prolong the rallies, forcing errors from her this time. Supanida managed to stay close until about halfway into the game - going into the change of ends just a point down at 10-11 - but it was one way going in the second half of the game with Sindhu winning seven straight points to ensure there would be a decider.
Supanida came out strong winning the first four points of the third game, but Sindhu was always in the mix. The Indian once again went into the break 11-10 up and although the Thai found a way to push the matter close towards the end, she was never able to push past the Indian into the lead.
With perhaps her trickiest opponent of the competition out of the way, Sindhu will be a little more confident going into her semifinal. Although Evgeniya Kosetskaya is higher ranked that Supanida, she is stylistically closer to the kind of opponent Sindhu favours. The Indian has a 2-0 record against the Russian and having never been forced into a third game in any encounter will be expecting to extend that streak even as she looks to win her first title since the 2019 World Championships.