The theme may be an aching, recurrent one for PV Sindhu but it's still too early to worry about her losses in finals, says former world No. 1 Prakash Padukone. Speaking to ESPN, Padukone laid focus on Sindhu's need to prioritize big events, even if it means missing out on a bunch of tournaments in the weeks leading up to them.
Padukone, though, isn't too perturbed. "Sindhu put up a creditable performance and at that level you can't predict results," he says. "She played well throughout the tournament and Carolina has been in great form and both are essentially big-match players. But if you have to peak at the big events -- the World Championships, All England and Olympics -- you have to prioritize and maybe skip six to eight weeks of tournaments leading up to them. She just needs to break the cycle once. It's something Sindhu and [her coach Pullela] Gopichand can discuss and see if that's what she needs. I think it's too early to start worrying about her losing in finals. Maybe if this continues for the next one or two years, then there's something there. I wouldn't have said the same had she been five years older."
Skipping the smaller tournaments ahead of the big ones would have been an option he would only be happy to take if faced with a similar situation, he says. "As a player I would want to rest for those few weeks prior to a big event and maybe reach the venue four or five days in advance," Padokone says. "Of course, ranking may suffer but I would be OK with that. But each player can be different. Some may not be comfortable unless they're in tournament mode, even if they're not winning the titles."
Marin has won all the big titles -- Olympics, World Championships, All England -- so she has got that right, says Padukone. In the last two years, Sindhu won three Superseries titles -- China Open, India Open and Korea Open -- while Marin won just one (Japan Open in 2017) and had three runners-up finishes in Singapore, Malaysia and India (where she lost to Sindhu in the final). But Sindhu is yet to win either of the three most coveted badminton crowns. "Marin performed below average in the other tournaments through the past year and a half, which I don't think was intentional," says Padukone. "It was possibly because of the injury she was carrying. But she has managed to win all the big ones and to win the World title three times is pretty great."
Losing the first game despite having a handy lead and then visibly falling apart to Marin's pace and tactics in the second was Sindhu's undoing on Sunday, but Padukone doesn't think the world No. 3 Indian's game needs much tinkering. "Game-wise, I think Sindhu is sorted. But in the second game she seemed to be getting irritated and serving before Marin was ready and didn't seem prepared to receive serve on many occasions. It was probably part of Carolina's plan but you shouldn't let it affect you. Maybe Gopi and Sindhu need to sit down and analyze which area she needs to work on, whether it's tactical, mental or physical. It's hard to pinpoint what that gap is unless you're there with her."
Padukone is, however, quick to call attention to a brighter side. "She also had a tough draw, playing these two defensive, rallying Japanese players [Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi] in the quarters and semis," he says. "They probably need to do a thorough video analysis of the four players who she has been having trouble with -- Tai Tzu Ying, Yamaguchi, Okuhara and Marin. The good thing is she's not losing to the same opponents every time. So she may have lost to Marin at the Olympics and Worlds but she has beaten her at other tournaments in between. The same goes for Okuhara and Yamaguchi."
Going back in time, Padukone, who was ranked No. 1 in 1980, the same year that he became the first Indian to win the All England title, says the travails that he faced as a professional player not blessed with a sturdy physique were tough to overcome. "I've lost many times in the final and in my case the problem was that I was not very strong physically," he says. "So after playing a tough pre-quarter-finals, for instance, I lost out on stamina. I did whatever little I knew to make it better, I did. But there was only so much I could do and of course it wasn't enough. I didn't have much to go back to for help, but today there's sports science and all of that. Sindhu needs to keep trying, stay positive and believe in herself. Everyone around her too also needs to be that way and the media too should also be supportive and not always tell her that, 'Oh, you're losing all the finals.'"
The other aspect, Padukone points out, is the typically Indian psyche of feeling satisfied early. "We're probably the only country who use the term 'assured of a bronze' when a player reaches the semis," he says. "You wouldn't hear that in countries like the US. We tend to feel satisfied by reaching the finals. When you go into a tournament, you're going for gold, nothing less. But that is the general set-up in India. So when a player is satisfied by making the finals, it can be extremely difficult to beat your mind and overcome that feeling. So if you're writing an exam and you have one paper left, you don't celebrate until that is done. Often in the Indian sport scenario, when you make the semis you're flooded with calls and messages, and ministers and dignitaries begin to congratulate you on social media, so in a sense you're mentally prepared to be No. 2. That is often our whole approach. It's something I tell Lakshya [Sen] too. Preparation has to be right. It's not that you'll definitely win if do so; you might even lose despite doing that. But at least mentally you're in the right space."
The average Indian badminton fan's disenchantment with Sindhu losing out on a gold medal, Padukone offers, stems from being spoilt by her stupendous results in the past and it's only a matter of time before she brings home the big medal.
"Sindhu, I think, has set the bar so high with her performances that even if she's world No. 2 we think it's not good enough," says Padukone. "We're not trying to find fault here but we really want her to win gold. And her gold will come."