PV Sindhu is on course for a second consecutive Olympic medal after fighting her way into the semi-finals of the women's singles event by defeating local hope Akane Yamaguchi in straight games.
Sindhu, who collected silver after losing to Carolina Marin in the gold medal match in Rio five years ago and has since won the World Championships among her many accomplishments, next faces Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu-ying, against whom she has a 5-13 head-to-head record.
Tzu-ying qualified for the last four on the back of a come-from-behind win against Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon on the same day as Sindhu's win over Yamaguchi. The Hyderabadi shuttler, on the other hand, registered a 21-13, 22-20 scoreline to advance.
Sindhu faces Tzu-ying in Court 1 at the Musashino Forest Plaza in the Japanese capital on Saturday, 31 July, the match starting at 3.20 pm Indian Standard Time.
Here's her road to the Tokyo Olympics women's singles semi-finals:
Coming into July 2019, PV Sindhu had not made it to the final of a World Tour event in the calendar year. That changed when the Indian strode into the Indonesia Open final by brushing aside the likes of Nozomi Okuhara and Chen Yu Fei in straight-game victories. The run to the final was a mixed-bag for Sindhu, who was taken the distance by unheralded Aya Ohori and Mia Blichfeldt, but blitzed the more established Okuhara and Chen in matches where she won games by 21-7 and 21-0 margins respectively.
But in the final, Sindhu ran head first into her third Japanese contender of the tournament, the redoubtable Akane Yamaguchi, who handed her a 15-21, 16-21 defeat.
A World Championship gold, at last!
Exactly a month after that disappointing Japan Open defeat, Sindhu was standing atop the podium at Basel with the World Championship crown perched on her head. Sindhu had previously won four World Championships medals " bronze medals in the 2013 and 2014 editions and silver in 2017 and 2018 " but the lustre of a Worlds gold medal was missing from Sindhu's trophy cabinet. In 2017, Nozomi Okuhara had handed Sindhu a bruising defeat after a 110-minute encounter at Glasgow. Two years later in Basel, Sindhu returned the favour with a 38-minute demolition of the Japanese shuttler with a 21-7, 21-7 scoreline. Not just the final, Sindhu was impressive throughout the week, dominating Pai Yu Po, Beiwen Zhang, Tai Tzu Ying, Chen Yu Fei on her way to the final.
Reality check for the World Champion
The succeeding tournaments after that heady title at Basel were a reality check for the Indian though. She lost in the second round at the China Open to Pornpawee Chochuwong, first round at the Korea Open to Zhang, second round at the Denmark Open to An Se Young, quarter-finals of the French Open to Tai Tzu Ying, first round of the Fuzhou China Open to Pai Yu Po, second round of the Hong Kong Open to Busanan Ongbamrungphan.
She made the cut for the season-ending BWF World Tour Finals, but crashed out in the group stage after winning just one of her three round robin matches. Her win over China's He Bing Jiao was merely a consolation, since she had lost her previous two clashes, against Chen Yu Fei and Akane Yamaguchi.
2020 brings more misery
In a year curtailed heavily due to the coronavirus pandemic, which forced many tournaments to be cancelled, Sindhu participated at the Malaysia Masters Super 500 and the Indonesia Masters Super 500 in January, and then at the prestigious All-England tournament in March.
At the Malaysia Masters, she beat Russia's Evgeniya Kosetskaya in her opener and then Japan's Aya Ohori in the next round in straight games. But she was ousted by the wily Tai Tzu Ying in a 36-minute encounter in the quarters.
A week later, at the Indonesia Masters, she started shakily, allowing Japan's Aya Ohori to take a game off her in their opening clash. In the second round, she won the first game, but then allowed Japan's Sayaka Takahashi to come back strongly and claim the rest of the two games and the match.
At the All England event in March, she breezed through the first two matches of the tournament, beating Beiwen Zhang and Sung Ji Hyun in straight games. But Nozomi Okuhara stopped the Indian shuttler's march in the quarters after a three-game scrap.
Move to England
PV Sindhu moved to England to train at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) in October 2020 while the pandemic raged in India.
There were multiple news reports at the time speculating about the reasons behind her move to England, including a falling out with her parents. But the shuttler moved fast to quash the reports.
Sindhu's father told the Press Trust of India, "Her practice was not happening properly here. After the 2018 Asian Games, Gopi (chief coach Pullela Gopichand) didn't take interest in her training. He didn't provide a proper practice partner to train with her. She was not having enough quality practice and was fed up with the treatment."
Miserable run of results
Sindhu started 2021 with a miserable run of form. In the Yonex Thailand Open, a Super 100 tournament, she was dumped out by Mia Blichfeldt in the opening round. After claimed the first game, but after losing a scrappy game 24-26, she lost the plot in the decider, losing 13-21.
A week later, at the Toyota Thailand Open, she made it to the quarter-finals, by beating Busanan Ongbamrungphan and Selvadurey Kisona in the first two encounters. But she was brushed aside in the quarters by Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon by a 13-21, 9-21 margin.
More misery awaited her at the rescheduled World Tour Finals event later in January, where she was beaten by Tai Tzu Ying and Ratchanok Intanon in successive games, before beating Pornpawee Chochuwong in the last game of the group stage.
Finalist at Swiss Open
In March, Sindhu rampaged her way into the final of the World Tour Super 300 event in Switzerland without dropping a game in four contests.
But in the final, she was reunited with her old foe: Carolina Marin, who had defeated her in the Rio Olympics final. This time too, the Spaniard emerged victorious handing Sindhu a defeat by a shocking 12-21, 5-21 margin.
Falling short at All England
10 days after the final defeat, Sindhu started her campaign at the All England tournament. She made it to the quarters, without really being tested. In the last-8 round, Japan's Akane Yamaguchi troubled Sindhu, taking a game off her. But while Sindhu managed to ride out that storm, she was ousted in the next round by a determined Pornpawee Chochuwong by a 17-21, 9-21 scoreline.
Training at Gachibowli
With the last remaining tournaments before Tokyo 2020 cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19, Sindhu returned to India to train. She made the Gachibowli Stadium in Telangana her training base, working under Korean coach Park Tae Sang.
Earlier this month, Sindhu said the COVID-19 pandemic-enforced break actually made her a "better player" because it gave her ample time to work on her technique and skills.
Rather than focusing on the negatives, Sindhu told the Press Trust of India in an interview, "It did not impact my preparation much for the Olympics because I think I've got enough time. Generally it's like you go for a tournament, come back and train. Most of the time, we don't have enough time to train. So I think this was the first time that we've got enough time to actually train and get ready for the Olympics.
"I don't think it has impacted on my preparations " not at all. In fact, I've actually learned a lot more, and I'm prepared for it."
Tokyo 2020 draw
Seeded sixth at Tokyo, World No 7 Sindhu was drawn in Group J alongside Hong Kong's Cheung Ngan Yi before taking on Israel's Ksenia Polikarpova.
Ngan Yi is World No 34 while Polikarpova is 58th. Sindhu has a 5-0 record against Ngan Yi, the last of those encounters coming in 2017. She also has a 2-0 track record against Polikarpova. Sindhu last faced the Israeli in 2015. In the singles competition, only the top player from a group will qualify for the knock-out stage.
Sindhu is expected to face Group I's Mia Blichfeldt in the Last 16, provided both progress. If Sindhu can overcome the Dane, she is expected to meet Akane Yamaguchi in the quarter-finals.