<
>

PV Sindhu dominates Chochuwong to set up Tai Tzu Ying quarterfinal at BWF World Championships

PV Sindhu will face Tai Tzu Ying in the quarters of the 2021 World Championships. Shi Tang/Getty Images

Big tournaments and just PV Sindhu things. Where the Indian discovers an extra gear, and precedent and head-to-head can come to naught. Pornpawee Chochuwong was not supposed to be a no-sweat opponent. The Thai, anointed to be the next flagbearer of women's singles in her country, had got the better of Sindhu twice this year. Most recently in the group stages of the World Tour Finals over three games. But heck, it's the World Championships and Sindhu can morph into a different beast - power and pace... a brute force of nature. In their pre-quarterfinals on Thursday, Sindhu dominated Chochuwong with her power game and paired it off with zippy hand-speed to win 21-14, 21-18.

The 26-year-old has never lost before the quarter-final stage at the BWF World Championships, a streak stretching back to 2013.

The defending champion strolled into the mixed zone after her win, searching for an answer -- the third-game score in the match which had featured her next round opponent, Tai Tzu Ying. Though Sindhu had beaten Chochuwong in two games, her match duration was almost identical to Tai's three-gamer, just about closing in on 50 minutes. "She makes life bl***y difficult for you," said Tai's opponent Kirsty Gilmour.

"It was very important for me to get the win, the previous two times I had lost against her (Chochuwong)," Sindhu would offer in summation to BWF. Chochuwong, who has modelled her game around idol and senior Thai Ratchanok Intanon, was troubled by the blitzkrieg rallies that the Indian drew her into and made plenty of errors early.

Chochuwong's cross net shots - collected early at the top of the tape and delicately deposited at the far end corner of the net with imperceptible wristwork, the shuttle trickling, tumbling its way down - were a thing of beauty. Sindhu almost always found herself stranded out of position for them. The Indian employed half smashes on Chochuwong's forehand side and her precision in finding the lines rarely deserted her. At the death, Chochuwong attempted a belated fightback, stemming the flow of errors and using body attack and cross net drops, but under the sustained assaults of Sindhu, she wilted.

And so another World Championships, another pre-quarter done and dusted.

Quizzed on whether she'd given the reasons behind her big-tournament transformation any thought, Sindhu dug her hands into the jacket pockets, threw her shoulders back and shook her head smiling. "Yeah, people keep telling me...I don't know, I honestly don't know."

She will be longing to replace the mental picture of her last meeting against Tai - at the Tokyo Games, which cost her a place in the final. The former world No 1 Chinese Taipei player has kept away from the Tour since missing a gold in Tokyo. She skipped the punishing post-Olympic schedule to fight for a title she's always chased but never found. What these months away from courts, matches and opponents may have done to Tai's mind is not known but it's clear she is back for a reason.

Tai falls among the small pool of players against whom Sindhu has a troubling, lopsided history. The others are Carolina Marin, Ratchanok Intanon and the newest addition, An Seyoung.

Tai's net prowess has often troubled Sindhu's low defence, particularly on her backhand forecourt. Against the trickery of Tai, Sindhu has to deny her time to unfurl her tapestry of strokes and call the shots. Her half-smashes could come good, but she has to steer clear of being drawn into lengthy rallies. Instead, she could smother Tai with an attacking game, revved up on power.

After her match against Chochuwong when asked if she is close to her best now, Sindhu broke into a toothy smile, "Well, tomorrow is against Tai..." She knows the answer will have to wait.