PV Sindhu has combined her tall frame with agility, as was evident in her display in the Badminton World Championships at Basel.
The anatomy of a Sindhu smash is unreally simple. “Play when you get a chance. To hit. Hit it straight.” (Reuters)In PV Sindhu’s Avenger version of the World Championships — 2017 to 2019, the instructions were simple: Hulk, Smash. Power Velocity ‘PV’ Sindhu rocked the smash unlike anyone seen in women’s singles. This was pure power-play with no pause and no skittishness. Another world champion had been peppered with smashes by an Indian in 2006 when Taufik Hidayat was beaten by Anup Sridhar. The Olympian from 2008 was also a tall hulking shuttler with a Big Smash. Sridhar lists the specs of the massive weapon that was centrestage in the Sunday final against Nozomi Okuhara, and explains the anatomy of the Sindhu Smash. Excerpts from his analysis:
It’s the biggest weapon in her game. But it’s not just the angle. She’s worked so hard on her core. Even the power of the smash is fantastic. Many tall players have that huge advantage in getting a steep angle. She’s paired that with a really hard smash. 350-360 kmph is a considerably powerful men’s singles smash. In terms of power, you could tell even when the smash was in Okuhara’s range, she was not able to return it because she was beaten for pace most of the times. Angle paired with pace becomes lethal.
I think touch wood, if Sindhu can take care of her body, for the next 3-4 years she will literally dominate women’s badminton. Because I don’t see anyone potentially apart from Tai Tzu-Ying who’ll apparently retire after Tokyo next year or (Carolina) Marin, though it remains to be seen how she recovers from her ACL injury. But I can’t see anyone coming extremely close to Sindhu for a while now. This could be the start of the Sindhu era in world badminton.
There’s two parts to being tall. There is an advantage of the angle. But you are a little bit less agile, less quick with getting your feet back behind the shuttle and into position. Shorter players are much quicker on their feet. This is something tall players have to work on in terms of a lot of agility and strength training. And it’s evident she has done a lot of training on agility.
Physically, she is at a different level from even a year ago. That’s a good change. You can tell she’s physically looking very powerful on court. It’s the core mainly. The first movement to any part of the court comes from the core, not from the legs or the upper body. She’s clearly done a lot of core work. And that power is definitely core and her legs, arms and back are all a lot stronger, that’s where all the power is coming from. Actually core and lower body contributes more to the power of the smash than the upper body. Because it’s the push-off with the legs behind the shuttle and you use that momentum and weight of that body behind the power of the smash. Variation was there even 4-5 years ago. Power has improved.
Getting behind the shuttle consistently puts her in a position where she can use her height. A lot of the time in the past, even against Okuhara in the match two years ago, particularly on the forehand corner, you could see her taking the shuttle low and behind her. There weren’t many occasions like that on Sunday when that happened. She was always behind the shuttle and contacting it in front of her body. From there, she can use her weapons. Her flat clears, drops, smashes. She has all the shots. But now, she’s strong enough to get behind the shuttle and actually use all of them. Ideally, you want to be under and behind the shuttle. You want to be contacting the shuttle a little bit towards your right. That’s again depending on the variations you have, the options you have. You need to contact the shuttle just a little bit in front of you. If you can do that, you have the entire range in front of you — straight / cross clears, straight / cross drops, straight / cross half-smash, and obviously straight and cross smash. And getting behind the shuttle is actually a huge variation. She used to have all these strokes before but is able to use them better now because she has the power to get behind the shuttle.
The big smash typically has to be for the kill. Because if it comes back, after hitting such a powerful stroke, you are a little off-balance. She sets it up. She’s always been good at the net, has got some good spins at the net, getting up at the net, getting behind the shuttle and using drops and attacking clears also very good… all these set up the rally, give her the opening. And then she sort of kills it. I don’t want to put a bet here, but I don’t know anyone who hits the smash as hard as her. There must be someone somewhere. She’s still pretty young. Not too old to improve physically. So who knows.
She’s rewriting what a women’s singles player can do all the time. And I hope she can continue doing that hopefully. I’ve never heard of a 21-7, 21-7 World championship women’s singles final. But then I’ve also never heard of a 21-9, 21-3 men’s singles final! Momota is short, he actually doesn’t have a six pack or stuff like that. But he’s unbelievably agile and fit. These are unbelievable people in sport.
The full-blooded jump smash, as was seen in Rio, was kind of a finish from her if there’s a really poor lift or clear from the opponent which gives her the time to get behind the shuttle. The full-blooded jump smash, I also think, gets her a little bit off-balance. If she hits a smash and is less than accurate with it, it gives the opponent the chance to cross the return and really get her into trouble. Without the full-blooded jump smash and by getting that hop-and- skip smash in, she seems a lot more composed and stable. Even if it isn’t towards the lines and the opponent crosses, she’s still stable and balanced enough to get it. That might be the reason we haven’t seen the double-leg-off- the-ground smash.
The smash is obviously akin to the men’s singles game. On the opponent’s smashes, we did see a few cross-drives in return instead of just the simple blocks. So she’s sometimes driving the shuttle back on return. It’s again because the core is really strong and she reacts quickly and, of course, she is powerful and has fantastic reach. So we see smashes and she drives it cross-court from where she returns the shuttle. That is again a men’s singles stroke and we haven’t seen too much of it in women’s singles. Tai Tzu-Ying and Marin are also playing these shots that used to be seen in men’s singles. They’re unbelievably fit. I don’t know how they’re able to produce that much power and quick movements and explosion. But they are constantly pushing the level higher and higher. Sindhu’s taken it to a whole new level; let’s hope she keeps going.
When your strings initiate a fine smash and it hits right in the sweet spot, and you win the point, for the person who wins the point, it is more than just a point. It’s like a slap in the face of the opponent. You get only one point but mentally you take away more than one point from the opponent. Because the opponent is so scared to lift the shuttle again. For the person receiving the smash starts doubting everything. If you have lifted the shuttle back, and it’s come back as a smash, what are you supposed to do.
You lift the shuttle and you still lose a point. You’ll have to figure it out. For example, Okuhara tried to play it down on Sunday – and play attacking. But that’s not her game. She’s forced to do something that she isn’t used to doing, and then mistakes creep in. Which wouldn’t have happened if Sindhu wasn’t smashing the way she was.
It’s easy to get satisfied. But she has the right team behind her. There is Gopi to ground her and remind her that you should enjoy this. But there’s a bigger battle in 11 months.