PV Sindhu has the chance to overturn a year of struggle. On Sunday, the tireless, motor-like, endless, reserves of fourth seed Akane Yamaguchi's energy will stand between her and the object of her desire and despair, a gold, at the Indonesia Open Super 1000.
There's comfort in numbers for Sindhu. Yamaguchi trails 10-4 in the head-to-head and the Indian has won four of their five last encounters. The last time they played each other was in the BWF World Tour Finals opener in December, a tournament Sindhu went on to win. It's a maiden final at the event for both players who've overcome some formidable opponents - world No 1 Tai Tzu Ying for Yamaguchi and Japan's Nozomi Okuhara and the baggage of their rivalry, for Sindhu. It took Sindhu one up, to eight wins in 15 matches against Okuhara.
In Jakarta this week, hope had worn off early for the Indian contingent. This was supposed to be the tournament after the break where Indian players were to play like the last six months didn't happen. No Indian - barring Saina Nehwal - have a title to show for their presence on the tour in the first half of the year. Yet, just two days into the Indonesia Masters 1000 and all three men's singles players were stuffing sweaty towels into their bags and checking early flights to Tokyo for next week's Japan Open.
Sindhu too, looked like she ran a similar risk - laboring to three-game wins over 22 year-old Japanese Aya Ohori and Denmark's freshest hope, Mia Blichfeldt, in the first two rounds. In the quarterfinals against Okuhara, however, she transfigured into a different animal. She was assured, collected, and dominated the longer rallies. Okuhara struggled to keep the shuttle in play, especially on Sindhu's backhand side and the Indian opened up a crater-sized lead of 13 match points.
The bigger test, though, lay in the semifinals on Saturday against China's Chen Yufei, who's had a stellar year with titles at All England, Australian Open, and Swiss Open. But it became evident that Sindhu is, at the moment, operating on a whole different level. She's moving well, has slashed down her count of unforced errors and has found dividends in her attacking tosses. She won the first game 21-19. From a 2-5 deficit in the second game, the world No 5 Indian rode on her crosscourt smashes to win 16 of the last 24 points in the match, taking it 21-10.
Sunday's match against Yamaguchi may well be a sapping, reductive slugfest. Sindhu promises it could be "long" and almost as an aside to herself primes "patience" to be a deciding virtue in the result of the encounter.
In a week where national coach Pullela Gopichand's comments of not accompanying players to international tournaments to stay back and groom the "next Sindhu" caught attention, Sindhu herself has an ask to live up to. It's her first final of the year and there's a lot to play for - a win, a title, a gold medal and the habit of keeping up with all three.