Rio de Janeiro: Indian shuttler P.V. Sindhu caused a huge upset, stunning World No.2 Wang Yihan of China in straight games to enter the semi-finals of the women's singles category at the ongoing Rio Olympics.
Faced with a much higher rated opponent, the 21-year-old from Hyderabad scripted a 22-20, 21-19 victory in 54 minutes over the former World No.1 at the Riocentro Pavilion 4 here on Tuesday.
Sindhu will face World no.6 Nozomi Okuhara of Japan in the last-four stage. Okuhara defeated compatriot Akane Yamaguchi 11-21, 21-17, 21-10 in a hard-fought all-Japan quarter-final clash which dragged on for one hour and eight minutes.
Talking after Tuesday's quarter-final, Sindhu asserted that she is determined to produce a similar effort in the semi-finals and create history by becoming the first Indian shuttler -- male or female -- to enter the Olympic final.
"Yes, this is one of the most satisfying wins that I have played. I have played Wang Yihan several times and sometimes she plays a different game. This one was one of the best, and I hope it will happen in the next game," she said.
"In the first game, she shot very well. My win was not really luck, since she played brilliantly. I was down in that game, but then I came back. Even though she was leading, I knew the game could change any moment. After that the score was going equal and it was not easy to get a point for either of us," she added.
"I think we both played really hard."
Sindhu opined that she managed to be patient despite the numerous ups and downs during that game which worked in her favour.
"There was no particular turning point in the game, but there were big rallies and she was attacking well. In the beginning my shuttles were going out, but later on they went perfectly," she remarked.
"If there was a turning point it was that I was really patient. That worked."
Sindhu's coach and childhood idol Pullela Gopichand heaped praise on the star shuttler.
"I think Sindhu played really well and it was a very spirited performance. From the very beginning both the players really fought like hell. Sindhu had a good lead in the second game but Wang Yihan recovered very well. Yet Sindhu remained calm and became aggressive in the last few points to finish it off," Gopichand said.
"She was playing to a specific plan and Sindhu did straight get into retrieving action and negated Wang Yihan's attack. She was smart and she started attacking Sindhu's forehand right away but Sindhu gave it back with some great smashes," he added.
"All in all, I think great game by Sindhu showed a very great good attitude and a performance at a high level. There is chance of improvement in a couple of areas, but undeniably the way she fought and the way she pulled the strategy through it was very good very. To feel confident about the defence and then do it at the big points is commendable."
The former All England Open champion asserted that Sindhu can challenge the best shuttlers in the world on a regular basis if she manages to become more consistent.
"She's performed well in big events, when she's had time to prepare well. She has been inconsistent a few times squandering leads, but it's part of growing up. She's young and she has time and age on her side," the 42-year-old asserted.
"She is a great fighter and has a great work ethic. In my book she can do a notch higher, but what she did was fantastic."
Wang, who had taken silver at the 2012 London Olympics, was expected to be the stronger of the two in Tuesday's encounter, but it was Sindhu who dominated most of the exchanges.
The World no.10 Indian won the majority of the long rallies and used her power-packed smashes and cross-court shots to good effect.
Wang, whose weak back-hand caught her off-guard several times, came up with a tough fight, but could not do enough to stop Sindhu.
The match witnessed a lot of long rallies with both players displaying plenty of skills, excellent court coverage and a superb sense of placement.
Wang, a former World and Asian champion, had the stronger start, outfoxing Sindhu time and again with her clever placements which often forced the Indian to make mistakes.
The reigning Asian Games champion opened up a 3-0 lead early on before the Indian made a strong comeback to draw level at 5-5.
The two players continued to fight it out tooth and nail, with every point being well-contested.
However, a couple of unforced errors cost Sindhu dearly and the Chinese went into the mid-game break with a 11-8 lead.
Sindhu came back firing on all cylinders after the break and reduced the deficit to 11-12. The Chinese increased the lead by a point with a long cross-court shot, but Sindhu kept asking the difficult questions and levelled the scores at 13-13 when the under-pressure Wang hit a shot too long.
Another unforced error from Sindhu saw the Chinese regain the lead almost immediately. But the Hyderabad girl continued to fight hard and took the lead for the first time at 15-14.
Wang then took three points on the trot to regain the advantage.
But Sindhu levelled again at 17-17 before Wang hit a return into the net to concede the lead once again. But Sindhu let go the advantage in the very shot when she hit her return too long.
A couple of consecutive points saw Sindhu gon into game point at 20-18. But an extremely long rally saw Wang save game point with an excellent cross-court shot.
Wang then drew level thanks to another unforced error by her opponent.
But a net shot handed Sindhu another game point at 21-20 before the Chinese hit an attempted return over the sideline to hand the Indian the first game.
Sindhu took the lead several times in the early stages of the second game but Wang drew level on every occasion.
Three consecutive points handed Sindhu a 5-2 lead. Wang managed to pull a point back, but Sindhu dominated the Chinese in the long rallies to score another three points on the trot to clinch a five-point lead.
Wang continued to produce a strong challenge and made a fine comeback with her deceptive shots at the net proving to be difficult for Sindhu.
The 28-year-old Chinese reduced Sindhu's lead to 10-8 before the Hyderabad shuttler hit a powerful smash out of Wang's reach to go into the break with a three-point lead.
The 21-year-old Indian continued to maintain her lead after the break although Wang was never really out of the picture.
Serving at 16-13, Sindhu took two back to back points before Wang claimed five consecutive points to draw level at 18-18.
The former World No.1 then took the lead with a powerful cross-court smash.
Not to be outdone, Sindhu drew level with a clever placement and went into game and match point with a powerful smash into Wang's body.
An unforced error by Wang then handed Sindhu a well-earned victory.
(Hardev Sanotra can be contacted at email@example.com)