A little over a year after becoming the first Indian woman to win a silver at the Olympics, PV Sindhu came second best in the final of the World Championships after losing 19-21, 22-20, 20-22 to Japan's Nozomi Okuhara in the final in Glasgow on Sunday.
In a battle of attrition and endurance that lasted an hour and 49 minutes, it was the diminutive Japanese player who came out on top to win Japan's second gold at the Worlds.
Sindhu edges ahead after tight beginning
After the first ten points were split equally between the two 22-year-olds, Sindhu won the next six points to lead 11-5 at the changeover. Despite playing with drift behind her, Sindhu's accuracy was spot on as she effortlessly moved the eighth-seeded Okuhara around the court.
Steep smashes give Sindhu an edge
Standing 22 centimetres taller than Okuhara at 178 cm, Sindhu made full use of her height by pushing Okuhara deep into the court with her steep smashes and then making good use of her drop shots to leave Okuhara stranded in the middle of the court. Okuhara then tried to slow down the pace and leveled scores at 14-14 as Sindhu missed some easy kills at the net.
Change of tactics brings Okuhara rewards
Okuhara is regarded as one of the best players at the net and she used the short serve to good effect to make Sindhu play closer to the net and extended the lead to 18-14. Sindhu looked a little uncomfortable and the errors grew as she hit her drives and lifts long. Okuhara then went on to win the opening game in 25 minutes as Sindhu dragged a crosscourt stroke wide.
Error-prone Okuhara struggles to capitalise on opening game
Just like in the opening game, it was Sindhu who rapidly took a 5-1 lead at the beginning of the second game as Okuhara made a lot of uncharacteristic errors in her attempt to be more aggressive. Sindhu led 11-8 at the changeover after Okuhara missed an attempted smash by a whisker. Okuhara leveled the scores at 13-13 but a scarcely believable backhand flick from Sindhu brought her back into the lead. The Japanese coaches objected against what they deemed to be a double hit but the referee was having none of it.
Sindhu then extended the lead to 16-13 after a 43-shot rally where Okuhara defended resolutely before finally mistiming a lift at the net after scampering to the shuttle in time. Sindhu finally earned three game point opportunities when Okuhara pushed a drive wide but Okuhara saved all of them, the last two coming off fortuitous net chords. Sindhu finally converted her fourth game point opportunity after an extraordinary rally that saw the players cover every inch of the court over 73 shots before Okuhara failed to reach a drop shot.
Sindhu does the three-peat
Sindhu had a two-point advantage at the changeover in the final game as Okuhara's exertions over the past week finally seemed to be catching up with her especially when she was moving forward in defence. Even as Okuhara showed tremendous resilience, Sindhu continued to be relentless in attack even as the umpire kept reminding both the players to not delay the play. Sindhu was ultimately given a yellow card at 12-12 in the final game after she failed to pay heed to numerous warnings. Towards the closing stages of the match, it was clearly a battle of stamina as both players slumped to their knees repeatedly.
Okuhara overtakes Sindhu on the last lap
After staying tied for most of the final game, Sindhu upped her game at 17-17 and won the next two points after Okuhara failed to put a smash return back in play. But Okuhara won the next three points before Sindhu leveled again at 20-20 after Okuhara could not get to a shot that landed in with the drift. Okuhara was not to be denied a second time and after 109 grueling minutes, Okuhara became the first Japanese player to win a singles title at the World Championships.
Sindhu had previously won a bronze in the 2013 and 2014 World Championships. She had lost to the eventual champions on both those occasions. Sindhu had defeated Okuhara in the semi-finals at the Olympics in Rio last year. Okuhara had advanced to the final after defeating Sindhu's compatriot Saina Nehwal in the semi-finals.