This time, Sindhu has firmly emerged from Saina’s shadow to forge her own path. But throughout, even though they have trained under the same coach for large parts of their career, Sindhu has remained a distinctly different shuttler to Saina.
Saina’s fighting spirit, aggression and hunger to win made her stand out, and these characteristics seemed to be missing in Sindhu until now. The biggest difference between the two, then, remained one of temperament, a gulf Sindhu appears to have bridged in Rio following her own rigorous efforts to add more steel to her game. With liberal help, of course, from coach Pullela Gopichand.
Saina’s trademark calmness on court helps her deal with pesky opponents who try to rattle her with body smashes and stares. Sindhu, on her part, doesn’t like body smashes and would get easily rattled and concede points. It’s because of this that she tended to lose many matches from winning positions.
But at this Olympics, Sindhu has been a revelation. She was cool like a cucumber even in the gold medal match and hardly ever seemed annoyed throughout her memorable campaign.
For a long time, Gopi has been working on instilling these characteristics in Sindhu, who now appears more aggressive yet more controlled on court. Saina, a proven champion, interestingly does not believe she is a natural stroke maker. She has herself admitted on a number of occasions that she lacked natural talent compared to some other players. Saina relies more on hard work and training and needs at least six to eight weeks to peak before a tournament. Sindhu, in contrast, is more of a natural and also uses her height to devastating affect while playing the smashes. She has always been capable of unsettling the opponent with her strokeplay.
Standing tall at 5’11”, Sindhu likes to pack her shots with a lot of power. Saina, however, is a rally player who wears down the opponent and pounces on the mistakes of others.
From the back of the court, Saina is a better player than Sindhu, with better court coverage. Saina is a delightful dribbler at the net. Sindhu’s net game is good but not as effective as that of Saina.The senior pro has solid defence and rarely makes mistakes.
Sindhu, in comparison, has numerous chinks in her defence but in the last two months, the 21-year-old has worked hard on reducing the chinks. She looks solid in defence now and has surprised many with her retrieving ability. Saina likes faster court conditions – when the shuttle is moving fast between the courts it will be advantage Saina. Sindhu prefers the opposite, she likes if the shuttle is slow. That is why in Asian conditions, where they use air conditioners, the shuttle moves well and Saina performs better. In Brazil, however, the shuttle moved slower and Sindhu was on a roll.