In the aftermath of India's 2-3 Sudirman Cup loss to Malaysia, Sameer Verma must have spent a sleepless night in Nanning. It had been his unexpected men's singles reverse at the hands of 21- year-old Lee Zii Jia that had provided Malaysia with the vital point that allowed them to advance to the quarter-finals, while the Indian squad was left with the relaxed task of playing tourists.
On Wednesday, in the arena that had hosted the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Verma settled that not-so-old, but intensely traumatic, score. For a minute over the hour mark, he grimly maintained his concentration and composure while showing Zii Jia the exit door with a deserved 21-15, 16-21, 21-12 triumph in the opening round of the $150,000 prize money Australian Open badminton championships.
Verma's revenge came on a fairly happy day for Indian shuttlers, with all the singles players in the fray, barring HS Prannoy, making it through their opening round matches, and their top men's doubles combination making a strong statement of their quality against their own compatriots.
Prannoy had a great opportunity of carving out a third victory in four meetings with the two-time Olympic gold medallist and five-time world champion, Lin Dan of China, but stumbled at a crucial stage of his 50-minute joust with the Chinese left-hander, to go down at 18-21, 19-21. Prannoy had made up 11-14 and 16-18 deficits in the second game, to actually take the lead at 19-18 but failed to finish the job.
Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth was full value for his composed 21-16, 21-14 success over the bustling 28-year-old South Korean Lee Dong Keun. The winner of the 2017 Singapore Open Superseries title is two years younger than the Korean but was ranked two places below his rival's 22nd spot in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings.
Lee sported a 2-1 lead in their career head-to-heads, having beaten the Indian at their last duel in the September 2017 Japan Open. But there was little that he could do on Wednesday in the face of a smooth, near error-free, performance from the Indian, who revealed a substantially improved level of physical fitness compared to his performances on the circuit in the 2018 season.
Praneeth earned a second-round meeting with second-seeded Indonesian, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, who almost came a cropper against another Korean, Heo Kwang Hee before scampering to a 21-18, 12-21, 21-18 win in 58 minutes. The Indian has a 2-1 winning career record against the 22-year-old Indonesian, who is notorious for playing extremely well only in competitions in his native country, but not elsewhere in the world.
There was more joy for Indian badminton supporters when comeback man Parupalli Kashyap, who barely made the cut for the main draw at the Australian Open with his 38th world rank, notched a fine 21-16, 21-15 triumph over the 27th ranked Thai, Suppanyu Avihingsanon, three years his junior.
The two had met twice earlier and the score stood at 1-1, with the Indian having won their most recent meeting at the 2017 China Masters. Kashyap, who is beginning to look much more like the gold medallist of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, was never really headed off in his quest for a second-round meeting on Thursday with Prannoy's conqueror, the eighth-seeded Lin Dan.
As had been widely expected, PV Sindhu, the only Indian woman in the fray, had little difficulty in beating teenaged Indonesian qualifier Choirunnisa Choirunnisa by a 21-14, 21-9 verdict in 28 minutes. The Indonesian had tasted defeat at the hands of Sindhu in the Badminton Asia championships, barely six weeks ago, in their only meeting before.
Choirunnisa started brightly and actually held 10-7 and 12-9 leads in the first game before Sindhu warmed to her task and won eight of the last nine points to create a good cushion to fall back on. She was even more authoritative in the second stanza and led from start to finish, claiming an 11-4 advantage at lemon time, to coast to a comfortable win.
On Thursday, Sindhu will run into Thailand's Nitchaon Jindapol, who used her rich experience to beat compatriot, Pornpawee Chochuwong by a 21-17, 24-26, 21-18 margin after a protracted 73-minute struggle. The Indian owns a 5-1 win-loss record against Jindapol, with victories in their most recent four meetings and the solitary loss being at the Syed Modi International in 2016.
Meanwhile, in the all-Indian men's doubles derby, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty conclusively proved themselves to be vastly superior to their older compatriots, Manu Attri (26) and B Sumeeth Reddy (27), with a comprehensive 21-12, 21-16 demolition job in 31 minutes.
The younger pair was much sprightlier, with the 18-year-old Rankireddy providing most of the aggression and power, while his 21-year-old partner marshalled the forecourt well and controlled the pace of the rallies, making several timely interceptions at the net.
In Thursday's pre-quarter-finals, the Indians have a tough job on hand, to try and get past the Chinese combination of Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen. The second seeds were raked over the coals by Lu Ching Yao and Yang Po Han of Chinese Taipei before they could escape with a 15-21, 21-19, 21-15 triumph in three minutes under the hour mark. It is highly unlikely that the reigning world champions will be as lackadaisical on a second successive day.
Updated Date: Jun 05, 2019 23:15:56 IST