Into the fourth month of the 2019 season, it appears PV Sindhu, winner of Sportsperson of the Year (Female) at the ESPN India Awards for 2018 is struggling for momentum -- with only a single semifinal to show for her efforts so far. Yet for all her recent form, it would take a brave individual to bet against her for the rest of the year, especially in big-ticket tournaments like the World Championships and World Tour Finals.
Former national coach Vimal Kumar certainly thinks so. "She's going through a bit of a bad patch just now but she's always managed to find a way to peak when she really needs to," Kumar said.
It bears repeating that this isn't unusual in Sindhu's career. Back in 2013, her best result had been a win at a GP gold-level tournament - before her first Worlds' bronze, that is. She suffered four first-round losses on the Superseries circuit before her 2014 bronze. The run-up to the 2016 Olympic silver saw her endure fifteen exits before the quarterfinals. Before her first World Championships silver in 2017, she had six quarterfinal exits.
But that's what made 2018 so special. It was a year which required her to peak for four tournaments and the Indian managed to do just that - reaching the finals of the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the World Championships. And just in case she might have felt the need to silence criticism that she had something of a finals jinx, she went all the way at the World Tour Finals.
In addition to the runs in the biggest tournaments, Sindhu also had two other finals at the World Tour 500 level as well as semifinal finishes at the All England Open and at the Malaysian Open. It was a year that was remarkable for its consistency.
"2018 will be special for Sindhu because she was just very very consistent," says Kumar. What worked for her, he says, was her improved defensive game and improved fitness. "She's just been able to play at a high level for a lot longer than she might have been used to in the past. And that's impacted her results," he says.
What makes Kumar especially hopeful is the fact that for all her improvement, he still doesn't feel Sindhu is playing at her full potential. "Someone like Sindhu is fascinating because there is still so much room for her to improve," he says.
Kumar hopes that Sindhu plays to her strengths - her height and reach - more than she currently does. "Fitness wise, I don't see any problems in her game. She has the height, so I'd want to see her attack the lines a bit more than she does right now," he says. And while her reflexes and reach have helped her make critical saves in defence, Kumar feels Sindhu could add a little more variety to her game, especially when opponents take the game to the front of the court. "She needs a good tumble at the net with which to counter dribble. She can get a bit monotonous at times but that's where she can use a bit more of her wrist in her shots," he says.
These are avenues Sindhu is undoubtedly already working on. As things stand, Sindhu remains the country's pre-eminent women's badminton player. And while she's currently falling a tad short of the lofty standards she will hold herself accountable to, Kumar says Sindhu will most certainly improve.
"She is someone who keeps learning. I'm looking forward to seeing what what changes she will bring to her game this year," he says.