PV Sindhu continued her impressive form at this Olympics by defeating home-favourite Akane Yamaguchi 21-13, 22-20 in the quarterfinals on Friday. With this win, Sindhu becomes the first Indian badminton player to reach the semis at two Olympics. She will face world no. 2 Tai Tzu Ying in the last four on Saturday.
Sindhu has not dropped a single game at this year’s Olympics and her nine match wins at the Olympics are now the joint-most for an Indian badminton player with Saina Nehwal, who won bronze at the London Olympics in 2012.
Yamaguchi had won three of her last four matches against Sindhu and she started the match confidently by looking to be aggressive and applying early pressure on Sindhu. She led in the early stages of the match, but Sindhu, who had won 11 of their previous 18 matches and also their only match this year, showed impressive retrieval skills which forced the fourth-seeded Japanese player to go for the lines.
With Sindhu varying the pace of play at will, Yamaguchi rifled through game plans. After trying to push Sindhu deep and playing a couple of fine drop shots at the beginning, Yamaguchi started to overhit her clears as Sindhu built a steady lead.
The match was reminiscent of their meeting in the semis of the 2018 World Championships, when Sindhu won 21-16, 24-22 in straight games. Yamaguchi has been a fixture in top four of the world rankings for most of the last five years and has won as many as six World Tour titles in that period.
However, she had only once previously reached the last four at the Olympics or the World Championships. Sindhu, on the other hand, had a grand total of six semifinal appearances at the Olympics and Worlds before this match and she used all of that big-match experience in the second game after winning the opening game in just 23 minutes.
Sindhu continued to operate in the same vein and opened up a 14-8 lead in the second game but Yamaguchi launched a spirited comeback to narrow Sindhu’s lead to one point at 15-14 after winning a mammoth 54-stoke rally. The rally left both players gasping for breath and Yamaguchi won seven of eight points at one stage to draw level at 15-15.
With her increased aggression leading to quite a few errors, Yamaguchi reverted to her preferred modus operandi of pushing Sindhu deep and moving her diagonally with sharply angled drop shots and found reasonable success as even when Sindhu went on the attack, Yamaguchi got almost everything back, which forced the reigning world champion to go even closer to the lines, resulting in a few more errors than the relatively straightforward opening game.
Yamaguchi then had two match points at 20-18 before Sindhu won four points in a row to win the match as Yamaguchi netted a lift on Sindhu’s first match point.