Australian Open Badminton 2019: As Indian challenge ends in Sydney, time to reflect at what went wrong in last six months

Writing a requiem for the state of Indian badminton has become more a norm than the exception, as the Indian challenge at World Tour (formerly Superseries) tournaments, instead of aiming for the winners’ rostrum, has been coming to an end at a much earlier stage of each competition.

Not one of the four Indian singles exponents and one men’s doubles pair that made a bid for a quarter-final slot in the $150,000 prize money Australian Open championships could achieve their objective. Like the proverbial tsunami that swept all before it, the essentially lukewarm opposition at this tournament was able to hoist the entire pride of Indian shuttlers and deposit them outside the doors of the Sydney Olympic Park’s indoor stadium on Thursday.

 Australian Open Badminton 2019: As Indian challenge ends in Sydney, time to reflect at what went wrong in last six months

File image of PV Sindhu. AP

Admittedly, considering the huge gap in their respective Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, there was not a vast amount of surprise in 24th ranked Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth’s meek surrender in the second game to the World No 7 and second seed from Indonesia, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, by a 23-25, 9-21 scoreline in 42 minutes.

Praneeth pitted his steady, accurate, no-frills game against Ginting’s blinding speed in hopes of wearing the 23 year old Indonesian down. The latter employs relentless aggression and plays a high-risk game that sometimes fails to work against those who can put up a resolute defence or counter-attack at will. Praneeth stood toe-to-toe with the peppy Ginting throughout the first game, but was totally outpaced and outhit in the second.

Nor was there any real shock in the 'battle of the veterans', in which 32 year old Parupalli Kashyap went down at 17-21, 22-20, 14-21 to 35 year old Chinese eighth seed, Lin Dan, after a sterling 66-minute struggle. Kashyap matched the wily left-hander in most departments in the first two games, and was by no means disgraced by the defeat, although it must be conceded that he did fade away when Super Dan put his foot down on the gas pedal from the start of the decider.

However, there was definitely a huge sense of the Indian fan being let down by third-seeded PV Sindhu, who suffered an unceremonious exit by a 19-21, 18-21 margin at the hands of Thailand’s oldest active female singles player, Nitchaon Jindapol, aged 28 and ranked 29th on the BWF rolls.

Having held an impressive 5-1 lead in their head-to-heads till date, and after winning their most recent four encounters, Sindhu was expected to take Jindapol in her stride in their seventh career meeting. But she was a bundle of nerves throughout the 49-minute contest, and never looked in charge, as would have befitted her World No 5 status. The Olympic silver medallist’s wretched form continues even as almost half the current season has gone past.

Nor does there appear to be any port in sight for Sameer Verma, who sits on the 12th berth in the BWF rankings. The Indian, who merited the sixth seeding in the absence of several of the top-ten shuttlers in the world, came a cropper against Chinese Taipei’s Wang Tzu Wei, ranked 20 places behind him.

In their battle, the Taiwanese player, who trains and plays regularly in national camps with his country’s top player, Chou Tien Chen, won the hour-long second-round clash with Verma by a 21-16, 7-21, 21-13 scoreline. The two had met after a long time. They last played each other at the Badminton Asia Youth Under-19 team championships, as far back as in 2011.

Verma eased into the match quite well, overturning an initial 4-8 deficit into a useful 16-11 lead. It was at this point that the match turned on its head, as the Indian went totally off the boil, and made error after error while conceding ten straight points to concede the opener.

In hindsight, one could identify that 16-11 first-game score as the turning point of the match, since Verma was to win the second game with such a degree of confidence, and in such a runaway manner, that he should conceivably have been an easy straight-games winner over Wang.

Instead, he went back to his prodigal ways after the change of ends in the decider, when a solitary point separated the rivals, at 11-10. Without being physically troubled, the jittery Indian allowed his antagonist to win eight of the next nine points, to reach 19-11, and seal the tie without much further ado.

Thus, instead of Verma, who had been seeded to reach at least the quarter-finals, it was Wang Tzu Wei who went through to the last-eight stage, where he will encounter another unseeded player, Japan’s Kazumasa Sakai, a 19-21, 21-15, 21-17 victory over Thailand’s top player, Kantaphon Wangcharoen. The Thai had sensationally conquered fourth-seeded Kenta Nishimoto of Japan in the opening round on Wednesday, but could not outlast Sakai on Thursday.

India’s last surviving doubles pair also did enjoy a great run. The pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty played their hearts out against the second-seeded Chinese combination of Liu Yuchen and Li Junhui, and were eliminated by a 19-21, 18-21 verdict in a high-voltage 35-minute clash. The scores of this match, incidentally, were identical to the result of Sindhu’s clash against Thailand’s Jindapol.

While the youthful Indians matched the formidable Chinese duo in most of the rallies, they simply could not administer the coup-de-grace when the opportunity presented itself. Fearsome hitters that they are, Li and Liu had been crowned world champions at Nanjing in August 2018, but had their hands full in the opening stanza, when Rankireddy and Shetty drew level at 18-all, and threatened to go one-up.

However, once the Chinese duo had the opener safely in their pocket, they played a much more relaxed game and only stepped on the accelerator after 11-all to get to the brink of victory at 19-13 and 20-14. The Indians made a partial recovery, but once again failed to apply sufficient pressure in the end-game, to be left stranded at 18-21.

And so, with three days still remaining for this Grade 5, Super 300 tournament to run its course, it is back to the drawing-board, to try and figure out just what has gone wrong with Indian badminton that had looked to be in such robust health barely six months back, when Sameer Verma had reached the last four stage of the year-ending World Tour grand finals, and Sindhu had beaten all-comers to claim the women’s crown.

Updated Date: Jun 06, 2019 18:07:04 IST