India’s No. 6 seed PV Sindhu withstood a late fightback to beat familiar rival No. 4 Akane Yamaguchi of Japan 21-13, 22-20 in the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics badminton women’s singles event.
Akane Yamaguchi’s deception and stamina seemed set to take the match to a deciding third game but PV Sindhu’s combination of aggression and defence carried her through to the semi-finals.
The challenge that Yamaguchi posed was apparent early when she pegged the 26-year old PV Sindhu deep with a series of pressing backhands before sealing the point with a nonchalant drop close to the forehand net to move to 5-3.
PV Sindhu rallied, rushing back and forth and left and right in a long rally to eventually draw an error from Yamaguchi that levelled the scores at 6-6.
Yamaguchi had been sending the shuttle long in her effort to keep PV Sindhu in the backcourt. The Indian badminton player built on those errors to go into the breather 11-7 with a ripping crosscourt smash that left Yamaguchi helpless at full stretch.
PV Sindhu was dominating the rallies now and finding vacant spaces regularly on the 24-year old Yamaguchi’s side, a drop-slice standing out for its deception.
The pair traded high shuttles in a gruelling rally that had Yamaguchi flying to her right to retrieve a smash but Sindhu was around to calmly lob the shuttle to the deep to go 17-11 ahead.
Another deep shuttle to the backhand corner set up a game point with a simple put-away at the net, and Yamaguchi obliged with yet another shot that sailed long for Sindhu to take the first game 21-13.
PV Sindhu vs Akane Yamaguchi: 54-shot rally
PV Sindhu began the second game aggressively with two powerful smashes. Yamaguchi tried changing the tempo, pinning Sindhu back into the forehand corner and then sending drops to the backhand net.
Sindhu stuck to her approach, attacking wide on both sides while still not lowering the guard on her defence. Some deception of her own – a twist of the racquet at the net at the last instant – helped her move Yamaguchi to both edges for an 11-6 lead.
A jumping crosscourt slice-smash right after the breather marked Sindhu’s domination over the Japanese, against whom she had an 11-7 head-to-head going into this match.
Next, from deep in the backhand corner, from where the smash seemed most feasible, Sindhu came up with a stunner of a drop for 14-8.
Yamaguchi wasn’t going away just yet though. A couple of netted shuttles from Sindhu on either side of a gut-buster of a 54-shot winning rally for the Japanese saw her level it at 15-15.
All the scrambling and retrieving was starting to tell on Sindhu now as she sent smashes wide despite drawing Yamaguchi out of position.
An incredible inside-out completely against the run of play gave Yamaguchi a couple of game points at 20-18.
Attack was the best form of defence for PV Sindhu, though, as she saved both with smashes and set up a match point with a third one down-the-line.
Making Yamaguchi lunge forward in vain for the last time, Sindhu marched into the semi-final four minutes short of the one-hour mark.
In the semis, Sindhu will face Chinese Taipei's No. 2 seed, Tai Tzu-Ying, who beat Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon in the quarter-finals.
China’s No. 1 seed Chen Yufei and No. 8 seed He Bingjiao will clash in the other semi-final on Saturday.