Finally, PV Sindhu cracks the Tai Tzu code

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The last time PV Sindhu beat Tai Tzu Ying, India hadn't heard of demonetisation, the Bitcoin gold rush was still a long way away and the country's medal tally at the Rio Olympics was still zero.

Two years since that Olympic quarterfinal win, Sindhu fought skewed head-to-head records to finally take a crack at the Tai Tzu code and snap a six-game losing streak.

It meant Sindhu has now beaten both the world No.1 and No.2 within the first two days of the BWF World Tour Finals in Guangzhou. Sindhu, who won 14-21, 21-16, 21-18, picked up only her fourth victory in 14 meetings against Tai Tzu on Thursday.

Tai Tzu has gained notoriety for being something of an immovable object as well as an unstoppable force rolled into a 163cm nemesis for the top Indian women. Saina Nehwal's record against the 24-year-old girl from Kaohsiung is also quite abysmal, failing to win a match since 2013.

National coach Pullela Gopichand weighed in on the psychological heft that this win brings for Sindhu. "It was important for her to beat someone like Tai Tzu. She managed to stay disciplined and play well today. Mentally, it's good to have this win in," he told ESPN.

With her supremely deceptive strokes, wrist wizardry and ability to throw opponents into indecision over where she'd place her next shot, Tai Tzu is difficult to read. It's also why Saina was quick to lavish praise and call her a 'complete player' after her Asian Games semis straight games loss. Much like a sorcerer who revels in watching her magic work, so is it with someone like Tai. On Thursday though, her fluid movements were punctured with discomfort. Earlier last month Tai Tzu had withdrawn from the Hong Kong Open with a waist injury.

In the match, it was post the change of ends in the decider that the complexion of the match deepened. Sindhu leaped on the tiny crack of opportunity that a semi-fit Tai Tzu offered and from trailing 11-6, she prised open a 17-13 lead. The Indian's plan was evident: Dogged retrieval and forcing Tai into errors. The world No 1 walked right into it, pushing the shuttle wide and glancing back at her coach's corner with mild annoyance and a hint of disbelief.

Sindhu took a swig at the scores, retrieving wildly while Tai Tzu sprayed the shuttle wide to put her three points adrift at 13-16. Easily the most dominant female singles player on the circuit this year, Tai Tzu is built to rattle opponents with drop shots, scything smashes, round-the-head cross court shots and net kills. She peppered the first game with them and Sindhu was only too familiar with the music.

For all her mastery over the women's field though, Tai Tzu is yet to win at the sport's two greatest podiums - the Olympics and the World Championships.

"She is the kind of player who switches the direction of her shots in a split second, so I had to be on my toes," Sindhu later said. "I just had to stay focused and keep the shuttle in the court."

Once you do that to an instinctive and unpredictable player like Tai Tzu, you can botch up her rhythm. Sindhu was matching body smashes with body smashes, and Tai eventually started missing the lines, pushing the shuttle wide and imploding.

Unlike the Chinese, Tai Tzu isn't a system-generated player. She has wormed her way to the top despite an apathetic set-up back home. So much so that at the Rio Olympics, even while she was trying to find a path to a medal, the Taiwanese Badminton Association was reportedly deliberating on slapping her with punishment for wearing shoes that didn't belong to the official sponsor. Tai Tzu later took to social media to explain that since her feet were of two different sizes she had to get custom-made shoes supplied to her by her personal sponsor.

While he's happy that Sindhu has finally breached this barrier, Gopichand in no mood to gloat.

"Tai is a tough player. In the next meeting I'm sure she will come back and pose more questions. Sindhu will have to find answers to them again. It's not that once you've cracked her code, you've cracked it forever."

After defeating her most dreaded opponent, Sindhu is looking to make a deep run in the tournament where she finished runners-up last year. The other Indian in the fray, Sameer Verma, too is alive in the competition. For Gopichand who is traveling with the team, all of this also means he might have to miss out on the wedding of two of his earliest and fondest students - Saina and Parupalli Kashyap - back home this weekend.

Unsurprisingly, he's on blinker-focus mode. "Hopefully, I'll have reason to stay here till the end of the week. I've made no return plans yet."