PV Sindhu overcame a late surge from Chen Yufei and powered through what appeared to be a bout of the flu to make it to the final of the World Superseries Finals in Dubai. She beat the Chinese player 21-15, 21-18 in 58 minutes to set up a title clash with world No. 2 Akane Yamaguchi.
This was the sixth overall encounter and the fifth just this year between Sindhu and Chen, with the Indian now holding a 4-2 advantage. Chen, a former world junior champion, isn't a pushover and is fast becoming one of China's most promising women's singles players. Yet the 19-year-old -- the youngest player in any of the categories in Dubai -- showed her inexperience in the match. There were many moments where she was on the cusp of seizing the initiative but gave up the advantage.
A wilier player, for instance, might not have called a challenge as Chen did when leading 16-15 in the second game -- after she appeared to hit the shuttle well wide. At that point Sindhu seemed to be fading fast. She had been clearing her sinuses on the sidelines and her footwork had slowed dramatically at this point. She had herself used up both her challenges in an effort to buy time rather than with any real conviction. The Indian would even be handed a yellow card for misconduct a little later as she gathered a precious few extra moments of rest on the sidelines. Chen's best tactic would have been to keep Sindhu on the court as long as possible.
Instead she let the advantage slip and handed it right back to Sindhu with a clutch of unforced errors at the very end. After closing in to 17-19 at the end of a 57-shot rally and then winning the next point after a tired-looking push from the Indian found the net, Chen made a smash error to give Sindhu match point and then hit a clear wide to concede the encounter.
But Chen's mistakes do little to take away what was a gutsy performance by the Indian who has shown herself to be among the mentally strongest players on the international circuit. She is also among the most feared. Many of Chen's errors early on came out of a respect for the Indian's abilities. Sindhu has probably the greatest defensive court coverage in the women's game and the Chinese found herself targeting vanishingly small windows of opportunity. More often than not she would hit wide.
While Chen had to push her limits, Sindhu always had breathing space. Whenever Chen would create a hint of trouble at the net, Sindhu always had her deep clears to push the Chinese to the back of the court and buy herself time to get to a more favourable position. On two occasions she would hit the clear over Chen's backhand and position herself at the net, exactly where the return came.
Where Sindhu was sometimes guilty was in playing her pushes flatter than they needed to be. Chen isn't the tallest player, but at 170cm she is tall enough to receive the shuttle in front of her. Sindhu's flattish pushes will likely work far better against Yamaguchi, whom she beat in a very one-sided group stage encounter. Yamaguchi herself was pushed to a gruelling three-setter against Intanon Ratchanok earlier in the day, but the Japanese is famous for her endurance.
How well Sindhu recovers in time for the final will be key.