Back to No. 2, PV Sindhu targets top spot in rankings

'Aiming to become World number 1' - Sindhu (3:09)

P V Sindhu talks to ESPN about her win at Korea Open, her hopes for becoming World No.1 and her preparation for Japan Open (3:09)

After a couple of bruising encounters over the last few weeks, PV Sindhu and Nozomi Okuhara are on collision course for another one this week, on Okuhara's home patch in Japan.

However, unlike the World Championships and the Korean Superseries, where they clashed in the final, Sindhu and Okuhara are drawn to lock horns as early as the second round of the Japan Superseries. While the ferocious encounters between the two 22-year-olds provided the sport's most compelling moments in recent weeks, Sindhu remained calm when asked about their budding rivalry.

"There are many more players who are coming up and there will be a rivalry with many players," Sindhu told ESPN on her way to Tokyo for the tournament. "Now it is Okuhara, but you never know about others. The top 10, in fact the top 20 players, are really doing well. It's just on that day who plays well will be the winner I feel.

"It is different with every player, there are different playing styles, so different strategies. With her, there are close matches happening, but it isn't like you win or lose easily against other players. These days matches are going long so we have to be prepared for anything."

Sindhu has stretched the boundaries of what she casually calls "long matches" in her last two encounters against Okuhara. The World Championship final in Glasgow lasted ten minutes short of two hours with the Japanese emerging victorious. The Indian extracted revenge in Seoul last week in a clash that was seven minutes short of an hour and a half. In fact, when they met in the first round in Singapore in April, that match too stretched to three games and lasted over an hour, with Sindhu claiming victory.

Having played against each other since 2012 when they were emerging juniors, Sindhu and Okuhara's head-to-head record against each other now stands at 4-4. However, it is since the Rio Olympic last year, when Sindhu beat Okuhara in the semifinals, that they have produced matches of exceptionally high standard.

Reflecting on their Korean Superseries final, Sindhu insisted that memories of the Glasgow heartbreak didn't come back to haunt her towards the closing stages of the match, pointing to her success in maintaining composure during long rallies as one of the reasons for being able to overturn the result.

"There were long rallies and both of us were very patient," Sindhu explained. "Both of us wanted to take the next point, it was very important for us to be prepared for anything and everything. It doesn't matter how long it is, anybody would expect to take that point. It can help you take a one point lead or get you back to equal footing. There are long rallies and there will be long rallies in such matches.

"I am very happy with my performance right after the World Championships. I played really well. At that point of time, each point was very important. I didn't have anything to say after the match was over, I was just happy because when the score was 19-17 it was the same as the World Championships. Each point was very important for both of us."

The title in Korea, her third Superseries crown and second of the year, will catapult Sindhu back to her career best world ranking of number two. It has also embellished her status as one of India's most followed athletes at the moment. Sindhu, though, continues to be nonchalant about the wave of attention she attracts these days as well as the prospect of scaling another summit by reaching the top spot in the rankings.

"There aren't too many distractions in my life. I do practice, I don't miss my sessions. Yes, the media and everything is there, they will always have high expectations but it is just that you have to play your game and give your best. Preparations for tournaments have always been good.

"I hope there will be many more Superseries titles coming forward and I hope I will go much more further. Definitely, I will be coming to number two in the world so hoping now for number one. If you play well, definitely your ranking will go up."