Two months before landing in Tokyo for her second Olympic campaign, PV Sindhu was asked in a television interview who her toughest opponent would be in the absence of injured Carolina Marin at the impending Olympics. She picked three names, she trails against two in the head-to-head tie, but described only one, the one that she plays against on Friday at the Musashino Forest Plaza. Sindhu had described second-seeded Tai Tzu Ying, her semifinal opponent, as a "tricky player" in an interview with NDTV back in June.
On Friday, Sindhu removed Japan's last remaining hope in the singles draw, Akane Yamaguchi, defeating the home favourite 21-13, 22-20 in just 56 minutes to reach her second straight Olympic semifinal. The Indian had overcome a sluggish start against the Japanese, who defeated her thrice in their last four encounters, incredibly with some aggressive gameplay. She relied on a change of pace and cross-court drop shots to rifle Yamaguchi's plans and took the lead at the halfway mark of the opening set before finishing it off in 23 minutes.
She started off in a similar manner to take a 12-6 lead in the second set before Yamaguchi scripted a valiant comeback, epitomised by her winner in the mammoth 54-stoke rally, which reduced Sindhu's lead by just a point at 15-14. A lapse in rhythm allowed Yamaguchi to pile on the pressure and take the lead for the first time in the second set and roared to gaining two match points at 20-18. Yamaguchi resolved to her usual gameplan to push Sindhu deep into the court before dishing out the drop shots which resulted in the sixth-seeded Indian falling behind. But she bounced back in time to win four in a row and deny Yamaguchi the second set.
Sindhu will now be up against Tai Tzu, who launched a spirited comeback to defeat Ratchanok Intanon, the other player that Sindhu had mentioned and against whom she trails in H2H (4-6), 14-21, 21-18, 21-18, in the semis. Sindhu owns among the worst head-to-head figure against the Chinese Taipei player in the BWF circuit with just five wins in 18 encounters. Tai Tzu won her last three games against Sindhu, including the three-match thriller at the World Tour Finals in January 2020. The last time Sindhu had claimed a victory was back in 2019, in the World Championship quarterfinal. Tai Tzu is an incredibly swift player on the court and her style of play is largely unpredictable owing to her ability to create angles out of nowhere, hence a "tricky player".
However, for the 27-year-old, her medal cabinet doesn't comprise of any Olympic achievements. In her previous two appearances - 2012 and 2016 - Tai Tzu had bowed out in the round of 16, her second defeat coming against Sindhu in Rio. The Indian, on the other hand, had gone on to win the silver in the 2016 Games, losing to Carolina Marin in the final. She is yet to drop a set this year and is now has nine wins in the Olympic singles event, which is the joint-most by an Indian after Olond Olympic bronze-medallist Saina Nehwal.
If Sindhu can overcome the "tricky player", she will guarantee India a third medal in Tokyo, but will she become the overwhelming favourite to take home the elusive gold? The other semifinal will be an all-Chinese affair - with top-seeded Chen Yufei taking on He Bingjiao. Sindhu has a 6-4 H2H record against the world no.2 but trails 6-9 against He Bingjiao. But as Sindhu had said in the interview, "You have to make sure every time that you are in that top form and you give your 100 per cent. It's about one match at a time and being focused."