Australia Superseries: Saina Nehwal asserts her class; PV Sindhu must get over end-game jitters
Saina, who has slipped down to the 15th slot in BWF rankings, asserted her superiority over the No 5-ranked Sung Ji Hyun, beating her for the seventh time in nine meetings.
Write off Saina Nehwal at your own peril. This unequivocal warning was sent out by the unseeded 27-year-old Indian to all women’s singles participants in the Australia Superseries badminton championships, as she cut fifth-seeded South Korean Sung Ji Hyun down to size in quick time, by a convincing 21-10, 21-16 scoreline at the Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre on Wednesday.
The Bangalore-based Saina, who has slipped down to the 15th slot in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings in the wake of some indifferent results in recent tournaments, asserted her superiority over the No 5-ranked Korean, beating her for the seventh time in nine meetings, and avenging the narrow 22-20, 22-20 loss she had suffered at Sung’s hands in the All England Super Series Premier tournament in March this year.
On a day when the reigning world and Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain continued her downward spiral with a 12-21, 19-21 first-round defeat at the hands of Japan’s 2016 All England champion, Nozomi Okuhara, the leading Indian female player at the moment, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, notched up a hard-fought 21-17, 14-21, 21-18 triumph over Japan’s Sayaka Sato, shock winner of the Indonesia Open Super Series Premier only three days ago.
The fifth-seeded Sindhu, ranked No 3 in the world, displayed all the sterling and maddening qualities that have made her such a delight to watch, and such a horror to follow. The 21-year-old Hyderabadi was so superior to the 26-year old-Japanese that she had the first game in her pocket, and was sitting pretty on a 13-10 lead in the second. Unaccountably, she lapsed into errors galore, to lose 11 of the next 12 points, to allow Sato grab the second game and draw level in the contest.
Again, in the decider, Sindhu made up a 1-4 initial deficit to race to a 10-7 lead; then allowed Sato to draw at 11-all, only to hit a purple patch of seven straight points, and stand on the brink of victory at 18-11, and then 19-13. Yet again, the lanky Indian gave in to a bout of heebie-jeebies, allowing the Japanese southpaw to claw back to 18-20 before she finally settled the issue. Such exasperating end-game jitters have cost her more than once against lesser ranked opponents in the past.
The third Indian in the women’s singles draw, rookie Ruthvika Shivani Gadde, who had thrashed Sri Lanka-born Australian Ruwindi Serasinghe 21-9, 21-7 in just 22 minutes in the qualifying rounds on Tuesday, found China’s Chen Xiaoxin to be a far sterner opposition, and put up a decent fight before capitulating 17-21, 21-12, 12-21 in exactly an hour.
Strokeful player though she is, Ruthvika needs more international exposure to become a useful third singles player in India’s Uber Cup squad. She could no doubt imbibe some lessons from compatriot Sindhu, who takes on Xiaoxin in the pre-quarter-final on Thursday.
Meanwhile, India’s two in-form male players at the moment, world No 14, Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth and 22nd ranked Kidambi Srikanth, were in fine fettle as they advanced to the second round with resounding victories. Praneeth, in particular, was full value for his 10-21, 21-12, 21-10 success in 47 action-packed minutes against Indonesia’s former world championship bronze medallist Tommy Sugiarto. Srikanth had matters his own way against Chinese Taipei’s Kan Chao Yu, winning handily at 21-13, 21-16.
Praneeth next runs into China’s Huang Yuxiang, who shocked Chinese Taipei’s sixth-seeded Chou Tien Chen 17-21, 21-18, 21-18, while Srikanth will get another chance to show that his Indonesia Open victory over world No 1 and top seed, Son Wan Ho of South Korea, was no flash in the pan.
If both Indians win, they are slated to bump into each other at the quarter-final stage, from the top quarter of the draw.
While Praneeth and Srikanth advanced to the second round with a degree of comfort, a quartet of Indian men fell at their respective first hurdles in the main draw. Parupalli Kashyap, Ajay Jayaram, Siril Verma and HS Prannoy were all eliminated, as were three of the four Indian combinations presenting their credentials in the paired events.
It was clear that advancing age and the crippling effect of repeated injury to the knees have combined to prevent the 30-year-old Kashyap from continuing to being the top Indian player he was at the time of the 2012 London Olympics. Kashyap played brilliantly in the qualifying rounds on Tuesday, to knock out first Zhao Junpeng of China by 21-15, 21-18, and then Japan’s Kazumasa Sakai, runner-up to Srikanth in the Indonesia Open Super Series Premier, just two days earlier, with an amazingly one-sided 21-5, 21-16 verdict.
However, the resilient Hyderabadi, currently in his 17th year on the international circuit, and perched on the 69th rung of the BWF ladder, fell heart-rendingly short of toppling top-seeded Son Wan Ho, who won their first-round encounter in the main draw by a 21-18, 14-21, 21-15 scoreline.
Kashyap was at his best in the second game, but could not maintain the same speed and control in the decider, to lose for the sixth time in eight career meetings with the Korean, whom his Pullela Gopichand Academy batchmate Srikanth had pipped by 24-22 in the third game of their Indonesia Open semi-final.
As for Jayaram, who has climbed to 13th in the BWF rankings, the swiftness of foot and staying power of seventh seeded Ng Ka Long Angus of Hong Kong proved a bit too much, as the 22-year-old world No 6 simply overpowered the Indian, seven years his senior, by 14-21, 21-10, 21-9, growing stronger and more aggressive as the match progressed.
It was the fourth successive time in as many meetings in the course of the past 15 months that the young Hong Kong player was putting Jayaram to the sword. Their closest clash had been at the 2016 All-England in March last year, when Angus had pipped the Indian by 21-19 in the third game. It had also been their first encounter, and thus, the first time that Angus had been exposed to the wily Jayaram’s bag of tricks. In subsequent meetings, Angus has found it increasingly easier to handle the Chennai-born player.
Siril Verma was another Indian who faded poorly as the rallies lengthened, and was sidelined by 21-16, 21-8 by Denmark’s 31-year-old Hans-Kristian Vittinghus, currently ranked 29th in the world, but who has reached a career-high of No 8 in February 2015. Verma, who comes in at 93rd on the BWF ladder, had made to the main draw with two victories in the preliminaries – over Yezehkiel Fritz Mainz of Indonesia 21-9, 21-9; and fellow-countryman Shreyansh Jaiswal 21-16, 21-14 – on Tuesday.
HS Prannoy, who had looked in outstanding form in Jakarta last week, with stand-out victories over two former world No 1 players, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia and Olympic champion Chen Long of China, was shown the door by Englishman Rajiv Ouseph at 19-21, 13-21. The 30-year-old Ouseph, who has roots in Kerala, is presently ranked 30th in the world, but was at a career-high of No 10 in October 2016, and is considered one of the stickiest players on the world circuit.
India had two other noteworthy results on Wednesday – the success of the young men’s doubles pairing of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, over the Hong Kong duo of Law Cheuk Him and Lee Chun Hei Reginald, by a 20-22, 21-19, 21-11 scoreline; and of the women’s doubles combination of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy, who had a comfortable outing against Australians Chen Hsuan-yu Wendy and Tam Jennifer, with a facile 21-11, 21-13 win.
Satwiksairaj and Chirag were actually on the brink of the precipice in the second game after losing the opener narrowly, but managed to pull the chestnuts out of the fire, and then lorded it over the third game.
Their seniors, Manu Attri and Sumeet B Reddy, matched the third-seeded Japanese pairing of Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda in the opening game, but were a spent force in the second, to lose by 20-22, 6-21. The third Indian duo in the fray, Tarun Kona and Francis Alwin, were not overwhelmed by the Indonesian-Malaysian pairing of Hendra Setiawan and Tan Boon Heng, but were still beaten at 17-21, 15-21.
Much was expected of the sole Indian mixed doubles entry of Satwiksairaj and Ponnappa, but they disappointed in losing to the Hong Kong twosome of Lee Chun Hei Reginald and Chau Hoi Wah by 13-21, 17-21. Satwiksairaj did well to channel the disappointment of this loss in the mixed doubles, earlier in the day, into the men’s doubles win over the same opponent, Reginald Lee.
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