PV Sindhu vs. Akane Yamaguchi, episode 20, turned out to be frightfully brief and one-sided. The two-time Indian Olympic medalist, who couldn't reel off more than two points on the trot at any stage during the 32-minute encounter, succumbed in straight games 13,21, 9-21 in the Indonesia Masters Super 750 semifinals.
"I just made too many errors," Sindhu would tell BWF after the match, "I didn't play my game. I gave her (Yamaguchi) a huge lead from the beginning. Even though I was trying a few things, they were just going out. The points I was supposed to get, I was making mistakes. There were no good rallies and she was leading by 7-8 points. Overall, I lacked. It was just not my day today."
Sindhu came into the match with a superior 12-7 head-to-head record. She'd won both their previous encounters - at the All England Championships and Tokyo Games - this year. But on Saturday, as the top seed Japanese pushed the pace, mixing her attacks, and finding the angles, Sindhu struggled to make inroads.
Through the week, Sindhu had not been challenged gravely, spending 125 minutes on court and facing three opponents ranked outside the top 29. Yamaguchi, in contrast, was coming off two wins over top 20 players, including a hard-fought one over world No. 10 Pornpawee Chochuwong in the quarterfinals.
In the post Olympics women's singles landscape, Yamaguchi has been in domineering touch. She won two World Tour titles - Denmark Open and French Open - in successive weeks in October and is now onto her third final in three tournaments. Yamaguchi opened up a five-point lead early in the first game using her precise drops. Sindhu accelerated the pace and found a crosscourt winner which had Yamaguchi on all fours at the end of an 18-shot rally. The Indian nudged closer at 6-10.
The resistance was fleeting. Yamaguchi used the slow conditions to her aid, carved the shuttle with reverse slices and rained assaults on the Indian's backhand corner. Sindhu's errors and troubles with her lift seeped into the second game too as Yamaguchi's automaton-like attack had the commentator wondering aloud over her diet. He would only gasp and declare she's human after her return in the closing stages of the second game would spray into the tramlines.
Sindhu has little time to mope over this scalding. She has three tournaments in four weeks and a world title to defend. "I just need to rest, recover, go over the mistakes and let go of this match to be ready for next week," she would say.