Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying underscored her reputation as the most outrageous strokemaker on the international women’s badminton circuit when she produced an inspired performance on Sunday, to cut down India’s Pusarla Venkata Sindhu to size, and capture the Hong Kong Open Super Series women’s singles title for the second time in three years.
The third seeded Chinese Taipei girl’s facile 46-minute, 21-15, 21-17 triumph over her unseeded Indian rival was her fifth win against Sindhu in eight career meetings. It effectively showcased her twinkle-toed footwork and wide repertoire of strokes, and revealed how the 22-year-old Kaohsiung native has finally come of age, shedding her tag of inconsistency and justifying her phenomenal talent.
It would be a misnomer to describe the pint-sized Tai’s demolition of her lanky Indian opponent as “clinical”; there was so much more flair to it than a mere comprehensive win. It was more like a fencing bout, with one rival wielding the racket like a rapier, in a sudden cut-and-thrust manoeuvre, and then dancing away out of reach, only to approach again with a deceptive feint, and score yet another ace.
In the same manner as Carolina Marin had totally dominated the Olympic final against Sindhu, making all the running and playing a consistently pro-active role, Tai appeared in charge of most of the rallies from the word “Play”, leaving the Indian to play catch up. It did not hurt that the large partisan Sunday crowd at the Hong Kong Coliseum cheered their fellow-Chinese player’s every point.
Starting with the advantage of playing against the drift, Tai opened up a handy 6-3 initial lead but lapsed into her customary string of errors to allow Sindhu to restore parity at 6-all and 8-all. Indeed, it was more negative points conceded by the Taiwanese than any real positive play by the Indian, that brought the latter on level terms.
But then, Tai upped the ante. Using the deep, back-breaking toss to Sindhu’s backhand corner, the No 3 seed mercilessly cut the rally short by angling her racket to produce a feather-soft cross court drop that even the long-legged Indian could not reach. Sindhu was given few opportunities to bring her own powerful and steep smashes into play, or reach the net early enough to make an attacking stroke.
Building on an 11-8 lead at the breather, the petite Tai notched up seven consecutive points in an inspired burst, to virtually have the game in her satchel, at 15-8. Thereafter, she merely coasted, trading point for point and maintaining a margin of at least five points, before pocketing the opening stanza at 21-15.
It took a little while for the Taiwanese girl to adjust to playing with the drift, after the change of ends. That gave Sindhu the opportunity of taking a 4-1 lead for the first time in the match. Sadly, it was to prove short-lived, as Tai recovered her range and swiftly restored parity at 4-all.
Not more than a single point separated the two till the mid-game interval, as they both used the lofted high service, in preference to the low, opening-creating short serve, to push their rival back. Sindhu was able to hold her own in the tossing bouts to the far corners of the court, but, despite her recent improvement at netplay, was comprehensively outplayed at the net by Tai’s wristy, deceptive flicks.
“For a player like Sindhu, it is difficult to be consistently in control of a rally against a player like Tai or Ratchanok,” said Sindhu’s coach Pullela Gopichand, who had watched the match on television from his academy in Hyderabad.
“At the moment, it is better for Sindhu to stonewall and prolong a rally, since Tzu Ying will eventually go for an improbable angle in an effort to cut the rally short, and make a mistake. But that is easier said than done. We have a lot of work ahead of us to iron out this deficiency in her game.”
From a 10-11 deficit at the breather, Tai edged ahead to 13-11, and never relinquished the lead thereafter. She switched to the low short service, inviting Sindhu to joust with her at the net, but controlling every rally beautifully.
The score was soon 17-13, with an increasingly desperate Sindhu throwing everything at Tai, but the kitchen sink. Tai just refused to let go, and literally flung herself all over the court in a breath-taking attempt to retrieve some of Sindhu’s most potent shots. The Indian saved one match-point at 20-16, but the Taiwanese would not be denied the title she had won earlier in 2014.
Hong Kong was Tai Tzu Ying’s second Super Series title of the season, in which she reached five major finals; and she bagged it by disposing of the gold and silver medal winners of the recent 2016 Rio Olympics in successive rounds. Not for nothing has she topped the list of candidates who have qualified for the year-ending Destination Dubai Super Series grand finals.
Tai’s victories over world, Olympic and European champion Carolina Marin in the China Open (in straight games, in the quarterfinals) last week and in the Hong Kong Open (in three games, in the semifinal) where Marin was the defending champion, resulted in heartbreak for the Spaniard, for she was rudely shunted out of the top eight qualifiers for the cash-rich Destination Dubai finals.
Sindhu, by virtue of reaching successive Super Series finals in two consecutive weeks, just about squeezed through into the eighth and final berth, in the process consigning her compatriot and senior, Saina Nehwal, to the 11th spot, and the mortification of having to watch the Dubai grand finals from outside the arena. It will be little solace for Saina that she will have the august company of the world champion on the sidelines.