PV Sindhu's chance to cap 2019 with World Tour Finals crown

PV Sindhu in action. EPA/YOAN VALAT

Defending champion PV Sindhu is India's sole representative at the season-ending BWF World Tour Finals, which will be held in Guangzhou, China from December 11 to 15.

The $1.5 million 2019 World Tour Finals are the second edition of the round-robin style season ender under the BWF World Tour's revamped structure that came into effect last year, succeeding the BWF Superseries Finals. It consists of the top eight players/teams across five categories, based on their points accumulated from the year's 37 calendar events. A maximum of two players/pairs from a country are allowed in each category. Sindhu did not finish in the top eight but secured her place in the draw by winning this year's World Championships. Players/teams are divided into two groups, where they play each other once. The top two from each group make the semifinals, with the winner of one group taking on the second-placed player in the other.

Sindhu will look to defend her first season-ending title, one with which she snapped a losing streak of seven consecutive finals. While she won three consecutive titles from 2013 to 2015 at the Macau Open, a Grand Prix Gold event that is categorised as a Super 300 event in the current structure, Sindhu has yet to defend a major title. The Indian was unable to defend the Superseries titles she won at the 2016 China Open, now a Super 1000 event, and at the 2017 India Open and Korea Open, both of which are Super 500 events.

The opposition

Sindhu is in Group A, along with China's Chen Yu Fei, Japan's Akane Yamaguchi and China's He Bing Jiao. Group B consists of Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon and Busanan Ongbamrungphan, Japan's Nozomi Okuhara and Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu Ying.

Here's how she stacks up against each player:

Akane Yamaguchi

World No. 6 Sindhu opens her campaign on Wednesday against No. 4 Yamaguchi. The Japanese may be higher ranked currently, but Sindhu leads 10-6 in matches against her. However, Yamaguchi won the pair's two meetings this year. Yamaguchi defeated Sindhu in the final of the Indonesia Open in July before getting the better of the Indian in the quarterfinals of the Japan Open five days later.

In the World Tour Finals and its equivalent Superseries Finals, Sindhu has a 2-1 lead over Yamaguchi. She beat Yamaguchi in the group stage last year and at the 2017 Superseries Finals in Dubai, before losing the final in Dubai two days later.

Chen Yu Fei

Sindhu also has a winning record, 6-3, against World No. 2 Chen Yu Fei. She won their two encounters this year, beating the Chinese in the semifinals of the Indonesia Open and then in the semifinals of the World Championships just over a month later. Sindhu seems to fare particularly well against Yu Fei in big-ticket events, having also beaten her in the semifinal of the 2017 Finals in Dubai and in the semifinal of the 2017 World Championships.

He Bing Jiao

Bing Jiao is currently ranked a place below Sindhu, but holds a 9-5 win-loss record against the Indian. The Chinese won their only match this year, in the semifinal of the India Open. In fact, Sindhu has managed to take just one game off Bing Jiao in their last four matches, with her last victory coming in the round-robin stage in Dubai two years ago.

Sindhu's recent form

Since winning her first World Championships gold in August, Sindhu's form has dipped. Of the six events she has played, she has lost in the first round twice, the second round three times and has had one third round, or quarterfinals, appearance. At regular tour events this year, Sindhu has managed one final (Indonesia Open) and two semifinal appearances (India Open, Singapore Open), relatively disappointing results given the level one has come to expect from her. However, Sindhu has a knack of picking up her game for the really important events, as her World Championships performances have shown. Even in the Finals, she won all three group-stage matches last year and in 2017.

The round-robin format provides some margin for error for Sindhu, who has paid the price at times for her tendency to start tournaments slowly. However, although she can afford the odd slip-up in the group stage, she would prefer to keep a clean sheet to keep her chances of progression in her own hands.