PV Sindhu fell to Gregoria Mariska Tunjung in the semifinal of the 2023 Malaysia Masters, as the Indian went down in straight games 14-21 17-21 in her first Super 500 semifinal of 2023. Sixth-seed Sindhu was second-best for much of the contest, much like her loss to Tunjung in the Madrid Masters final earlier this year.
Sindhu had a 7-0 H2H lead over Tunjung prior to 2023, but the manner of the straight-games loss in Madrid put the Indonesian as favourite coming into this game, especially as Tunjung's recent scalps saw the 23-year-old climb to a career high of World no 9 - while Sindhu had dropped to World no 13.
Almost as if responding to her Madrid Masters final loss to Tunjung, Sindhu began the game with a cross-court smash, despite her Indonesian opponent moving her all over the court. The Indian looked almost back to her usual self, winning the first three points but Tunjung displayed her own quality with a brilliantly disguised reverse slice that made it 4-3 in her favour.
The tactics that worked in the Madrid final came to the fore once more, as Tunung dragged Sindhu all over the court - but the Indian was ready with her excellent reach as the pair traded points to make it 7-7. A well-judged leave, followed by excellent defence saw Sindhu take a two-point lead, but Tunjung responded with an unreturnable cross-court smash. A quick flurry of drop shots at the net ended with Sindhu flicking it straight at Tunjung resulting in a 11-8 lead for the Indian at the change of ends.
That narrow lead quickly disappeared as Tunjung let Sindhu know she was in a contest to lead 16-12 with an excellent variety of shots that left her Indian opponent stumbling all over the court. A clever flick across Tunjung with her forehand stemmed the flow of points conceded for Sindhu, albeit briefly. A couple of errors from the Indian restored Tunjung's momentum as she made it 19-13. Sindhu then missed a glorious chance to grab a point, by smashing one straight into the net, before Tunjung ended the first game moments later with a cross-court drop to win 21-14 in eighteen minutes.
Tunjung's shot variation opened the second game, moving Sindhu around before an almost disdainful smash into space vacated by the Indian. However, Sindhu responded with a smash down the line as well as profiting from a couple of errors from Tunjung to take a 4-1 lead. In keeping with the narrative of the contest, Tunjung responded with four straight points to lead 5-4.
A nasty graze at 5-5 after falling on the floor saw the Indonesian receive medical attention, but she was barely perturbed upon her return, taking a 10-7 lead. Sindhu profited off a couple of errors to reduce the deficit, but Tunjung's excellent defence followed by an ill-judged leave from the Indian saw the Indonesian lead 11-9 at the interval.
Tunjung's shot variety saw Sindhu left in two minds very often, with a down-the-line smash from the Indonesian profiting of Sindhu guarding against a cross-court slice. The errors crept in as Sindhu's desperation for early winners increased, with the Indian sending one straight into the net to trail 16-11. A challenge that went Sindhu's way was followed by Tunjung stumbling while shooting into the net as the Indian raised hopes of a comeback.
Chants in Sindhu's support rang out in the Asiata arena, but they were in vain as her Indonesian opponent did not let up, leading 20-14, to earn six match points. Sindhu saved the first with a brilliant forehand smash across court, leaving Tunjung in a heap on the floor. Another smash produced similar results, with Tunjung's return going wide. An error from the Indonesian offered Sindhu a lifeline, with the score at 20-17. However, a long rally that saw both players move all over ended with Tunjung using her backhand cross at the net to stretch Sindhu once more, who could only find the net, thus losing the contest.
While the 44-minute encounter wasn't as much of a demoralizing loss as the 29-minute 8-21 8-21 evisceration in the Madrid final, Sindhu's second consecutive loss to Tunjung underlined the Indonesian's improvement and the Indian's middling form, as evidenced in the world no 9 defeating the current world no 13.
It was Sindhu's first semifinal in a Super 500 in 2023 however, and it was still a step in her recovery after her injury layoff last year. The concern will remain however, that in addition to her usual problematic opponents on the World Tour, she's witnessing the birth of more nemeses.