PV Sindhu has improved her defence and motion skills, two aspects that had contributed to her poor performance earlier this year, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, India’s foreign coach Park Tae-sang has said.
The 42-year-old, who was roped in for India’s men’s singles players in 2019, has been training Sindhu following the departure of fellow Korean coach Kim Ji Hyun after the Basel World Championship two years ago. He said the COVID-induced lockdown gave ample chance to Sindhu to work on her defence.
“Sindhu’s defence is weak compared to her attack. So I have been focusing on her defence training before the Olympics,” Tae-sang, who was the national coach with the Korean team from 2013 to 2018, told PTI.
“When Olympic was postponed, I thought it was an opportunity to work on her motion skills, and net training,” Tae-sang said. “All top players like Akane Yamaguchi, Tai Tzu-Ying, all know that Sindhu has got a strong attack, so they wait for her powerful smash. So we have tried to work on her defence which has been her weakness. So the idea was to help her get some variation from the back of the court, like playing more drops or tosses or half smashes,” he added.
Sindhu, 26, did not get much success after returning to the court following the COVID-19 break. She exited at the first round and quarters of the first two Super 1000 events in Thailand and also failed to reach the knockout stage at the World Tour Finals.
Although the badminton players qualified for the finals of the Swiss Open, she suffered a demoralising loss to Spain’s Olympic champion Carolina Marin. She also went down without a fight against Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong in All England semi-finals.
“I know a lot of people felt there was something not right with her physical strength when she lost in Thailand Open but it was not so. She reached the Swiss final, and All England semi-final and fitness has not been a problem,” Tae-sang said.
“Her defence was the one only problem. (Carolina) Marin and Pornpawee (Chochuwong) are good attacking players, they were using a lot of half smash and straight smash, and when Sindhu’s defence goes down on a day, it affects her other skills as well, she gets nervous. But now she has improved a lot in her defence as well. Her endurance on the court is also good,” Tae-sang added.
With Marin pulling out of the Games due to a knee injury, Tae Sang has no doubt that Tai Tzu would be Sindhu’s biggest rival at the Olympics. “Tai Tzu will be the number one rival of Sindhu at the Games. She also does not have a good record against Ratchanok. Both Tai Tzu and Ratchanok Inthanon have great pick up speed, they have great motion skills,” he said. “They make opponents run across the court with their deceptions and they are technically very strong,” he added.
Tae Sang said Sindhu is currently practicing with three to four boys from Suchitra Academy every day. “Sometimes it is 3 to 1, like one at the front and two at backcourt or some rotation for various durations like five to ten minutes.” He added that he would instruct the players to play specific strokes to confuse Sindhu, including motion cross, slice smash, and body smash, to improve her defence. “A lot of time is also spent watching old videos of the players and analysing their games,” he said.
Stating that he is aware of the problems that the Chinese duo of Chen Yu Fei and He Bing Jiao can pose to Sindhu, especially since they have not played since the 2020 All England Championship, Tae Sang said, “…we do not know their current conditions and styles. But they know Sindhu’s style since she has participated in the tournaments this year.” “I am aware of this. So we are watching all old videos like the 2019 world championship or the World Tour Finals where she has played these players and then having open conversations about the games,” he added.
Talking about the cancellation of qualifiers, the former Korean player, who took part in 2004 Olympics, said, “All players are sad that events got cancelled. Since All England no event was possible but this is a good chance …it gave us a chance to work on Sindhu’s motion skills.”
Tae-sang also feels that lack of spectators at Tokyo due to COVID-19 will actually help Sindhu when she plays against the Japanese players. “Japan has a strong badminton contingent and Sindhu is likely to play against them in the knockout stage so they won’t be able to cheer for their players, so good for Sindhu, there won’t be any home advantage,” he said.
The Korean has not been home since February last year. “My daughter is four now. I could just stay with them for 13 days. It is sad but training Sindhu has also been a great challenge and I hope I can help India win its first gold in badminton,” he said.