Ahead of what is her fifth competition of the year -- the Spanish Masters in Madrid -- P V Sindhu would readily admit this has been a season like no other in her career.
The Indian is in the middle of an extraordinary dry spell in her career. It was only last week at the Swiss Open, in what was Sindhu’s fourth World Tour competition of the year, that she got her first win of 2023. Prior to that victory against lowly World number 68 Jenjira Stadelman, she had been 0-3 in world tour events, making first round exits at the Malaysia Open, the India Open and the All England Championships. Even that relief at the Swiss Open was short lived as the Indian was shocked in the second round by unheralded Putri Kusuma Wardani. Sindhu’s woes have started to show in her world ranking too -- she’s fallen out of the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time since November 2016.
It’s hard to say exactly what’s behind Sindhu’s poor form this year. While she missed the second half of 2022 due to a left ankle injury that she suffered at the Commonwealth Games in August last year, she’s herself admitted that she is fully fit but struggling to find her rhythm.
Ahead of the Badminton Asia Mixed team Championships in February, Sindhu said, “I am completely alright now. Physically and mentally I am completely fine. I am happy with my footwork, skills, and strokes. Injuries happen but it is important to keep your body healthy and come back stronger.”
As results have shown, this wasn’t the case. What would be particularly concerning is the fact that Sindhu’s lost to opponents who would have hardly troubled her in her pomp.
At the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships, Sindhu suffered a 9-21, 21-16, 18-21 loss to Gao Fang Jie of China, ranked 63 in the world. The 27-year-old has also lost to opponents - Supanida Katethong (World Rank 25) at India Open, Fang Jei (WR 63) at Asia Mixed Team Championship, Zhang Yi Man (WR 18) at All England Open, and Putri Kusuma (WR 20) at the Swiss Open - all of whom are ranked outside the top ten.
While the losses would have undoutedly hurt Sindhu, what would give her hope is the fact that she is at least showing the intent to fight. Even though she lost most recently to Putri Kusuma, the Indian showed plenty of resolve in the three setter.
In Madrid, Sindhu has another chance to turn the corner and rediscover the winning mojo before the Olympic qualification cycle begins in May.
Despite her recent poor form, as a former world champion and two-time Olympic medallist, Sindhu enters her maiden Spanish Masters as a favourite along with local heavyweight Carolina Marin, the former Olympic champion.
Like Sindhu, Marin, has also seemed out of sorts in recent months. Marin, who returned to the World Tour in the second half of the last season after recovering from a chronic Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury on her right knee, started promisingly, making a runner-up finish at French Open 2022 and at Indonesia Masters 2023. Yet, Marin seems to be not in her comfort zone since she gave a walkover to An Se Young at the All England Open quarterfinal and missed the Swiss Open.
While the two have been placed on separate halves of the draw and the field has been weakend following the pull out of World number 13 Busanan Ongbamrungphan and former world champion Nozomi Okuhara, Sindhu will have her task cut out to set up a repeat of the 2016 Rio Olympics final.
Assuming Sindhu wins her first-round match on Wednesday - set against qualifier Stadelmann - things could get tricky from pre-quarterfinals. She would probably again face Putri Kusuma, who has been in good form. A third-round clash with Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt, who has just made a runner-up finish at the Swiss Open, looks likely. If Sindhu could cross these hurdles, the semifinal might be against Yeo Jia Min of Singapore or USA’s Beiwen Zhang, the eighth seed.
These are opponents against whom Sindhu might have been considered the favourite just a few months ago. But while the result are no longer as assured, the Indian would back herself to find her touch. If she can perform strongly here, it will give her renewed confidence for the bigger battles ahead.
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