Sindhu storms into final
Shuttler P V Sindhu made an epoch-making entry into the final of the women’s singles in Olympic Games badminton when she outclassed Japan’s higher-ranked Nozomi Okuhara and assured herself and the country of a silver medal here today. Sindhu, ranked 10th in the world, went one better than her senior Saina Nehwal, bronze medal winner in London four years ago, by becoming the first ever Indian to enter the summit clash in the shuttle game in the quadrennial sports spectacle. Sindhu defeated her short-statured, third-seeded Japanese rival, the current All England champion and world no. Six, 21-19 21-10 in 49 minutes with superb, attacking play to enter tomorrow’s gold medal clash.
The Indian shuttler from Hyderabad, a two-time bronze medalist in world championships, will meet Spain’s world no. 1 Carolina Marin who ousted defending champion Li Xuerei of China in the first semi-final with a 21-14 21-16 victory.
Sindhu’s heart-warming feat came a day after woman grappler Sakshi Malik had won a bronze in the 58 kg class to end the medal drought for India in the Games on the 12th day of competition. However, another wrestler made a tame exit from the competition today to end the women’s campaign here.
Babita Kumari lost her opening women’s 53 kg category wrestling bout 1-5 against Maria Prevolaraki of Greece and got eliminated from the Games. Much was expected of Babita, winner of two medals in past Commonwealth Games and bronze medalist in the World Championship in 2012, when she got on the mat a day after teammate Sakshi had provided India with their first medal in this Brazilian city. But the 26-year-old grappler could not succeed against the tight defense put up by her Greek rival and lost points in both the periods of their pre-quarter final bout. And when Maria too lost her quarter-final bout against Venezuela’s Betzabeth Angelica Arguello Villegas 3-6, it spelt curtains for the Indian’s slim hopes of replicating Sakshi and win a bronze through the repechage process. In both the three-minute periods, Babita got a leg hold on her rival but the Greek somehow managed to extricate out of the difficult situation and turn the tables on the Indian grappler. Yesterday while Sakshi won bronze in the 58 kg, Babita’s cousin Vinesh Phogat suffered a ligament tear during her bout in the 48 kg class against a Chinese rival, got stretchered out and also bowed out of the wrestling competition. In the semifinal clash, 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 strategy, engaging 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. The Indian engaged her rival in long rallies and tried to vary the pace and finish them with well-executed drops. A cross court forehand return after a long rally which consisted of 32 strokes helped Sindhu reach 9-6 before the Indian reached the interval with a 11-6 advantage after Okuhara hit long. The Hyderabadi 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 the Japanese 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. 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.