The strong mental resolve that Pusarla Venkata Sindhu has demonstrated in recent months, to go with her improved speed, physical fitness and tactical acumen, was very much evident on Thursday, as the 21-year-old Indian knocked out Japan’s Aya Ohori, one year her junior, in the second round of the Badminton Asia Championships in Wuhan, China.
The 21-14, 21-15 scoreline, in a matter of 40 minutes at the Wuhan Sports Centre Gymnasium, was an accurate indicator of the Indian’s dominance over her left-handed Japanese rival, who had bagged the distinction of winning the China Masters Grand Prix Gold title at the expense of her compatriot, Saena Kawakami, just four days earlier.
However, Ajay Jayaram, the only other Indian left in the fray at the end of the opening round, fell prey to inconsistency, and went down tamely to Chinese Taipei’s Hsu Jen Hao, who had stunned China’s Hu Yun in his opening joust. Jayaram, who had begun the tournament with a brilliant fighting three-game triumph over China’s No 5 seed, Tian Houwei, started brightly against Hsu, but faded badly in the second game, to bow out at 19-21, 10-21.
On current form, the No 4 seed Sindhu had been expected to have her hands full while dealing with Ohori, who has recently climbed to a career-high ranking of 15 on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder, but who had revealed her prodigious talent as a 14-year-old way back in 2011, while fully stretching eventual champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand in the World Junior Championships.
The Hyderabadi took some time to get into her stride, and was locked at 7-all with her Japanese opponent, before taking the match by the scruff of the neck with a four-point burst, to head into lemon time with an 11-7 lead. Moving with alacrity on the court and tearing into Ohori’s defence with powerful smashes to the backhand sideline, Sindhu powered ahead to 17-9, before closing out the opening game at 21-14.
The first half of the second stanza was extremely even, and a solitary point separated the two antagonists at the mid-game interval. But just as it looked as if the Japanese southpaw had got the measure of the Indian’s game, Sindhu reeled off half-a-dozen points without answer, to power her way from 12-11 to 18-11. Barring a couple of wild smashes into the sidelines, as she tried to close out the match, the 5’ 11” tall Indian continued to be in command of the proceedings.
Sindhu now has to win just one more match to ensure that she, at the very least, emulates her 2014 Badminton Asia performance of bagging a bronze medal. In a late quarter-final on Friday, she runs into another 20-year-old left-hander, He Bingjiao of the host nation, who justified her No 8 seeding with an equally comfortable 21-13, 21-16 victory over Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong.
The Indian has a losing 3-4 head-to-head record against Bingjiao in their seven career meetings, but will take heart from the fact that she had scored a straight-games win over the chunky Chinese southpaw on her way to the China Open Super Series title in November 2016. The victor in the Sindhu-Bingjiao tie will take on the winner of the quarter-final clash between Japan’s second-seeded Akane Yamaguchi and Thailand’s No 6 seed, Ratchanok Intanon, in the lower half of the draw.
Incidentally, Bingjiao is the home nation’s sole representative left in the women’s singles event after the surprise eclipse of fifth-seeded Sun Yu at the hands of Korean giant-killer, Lee Jang-mi. The 22-year-old Korean, ranked No 57 in the world, had come through the qualifying rounds to scalp Japan’s redoubtable Nozomi Okuhara, the 2016 All-England champion, in her opening round.
There have, however, not been quite as many upheavals in the men’s singles, with seven of the eight seeds making their way into the quarter-finals, the lone man to miss out being China’s Tian Houwei, a victim at Jayaram’s hands in the first round. Jayaram’s subsequent loss to Chinese Taipei’s Hsu Jen Hao leaves the Taiwanese the only unseeded competitor at the last-eight stage.
The top four seeds – Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, China’s Chen Long, Korea’s Son Wan Ho, and the home nation’s Lin Dan – have all been comfortable in their unrelenting march towards the business end of the tournament, and have crossed two hurdles each without dropping a single game.
The No 3 seed, Wan Ho, was particularly impressive while performing a comprehensive 21-7, 21-10 hatchet job on the dangerous Thai left-hander Tanongsak Saensomboonsak. Nor was the two-time reigning world champion Long extended while eliminating Japan’s Takuma Ueda by a 21-11, 21-14 verdict.
The two look very much on track to meet in the semi-finals, if they can settle the aspirations of No 6 seed, Shi Yuqi of China, and No 8 seed, Ng Ka Long Angus of Hong Kong respectively, in Friday’s quarter-finals.
But the glamour match of the tournament ought to be the projected semi-final between Chong Wei and Dan, a clash that should be their 39th meeting in a decade-long rivalry that has captured the imagination of the world.
The Malaysian top seed was stretched in the first game by Japanese qualifier Kenta Nishimoto, but then stepped on the gas pedal to run out a 22-20, 21-12 winner. He will seek to stop the excellent run of Chinese Taipei’s unseeded Hsu Jen Hao in the quarter-finals.
As for Lin Dan, who had scored a brilliant triumph over Chong Wei in the Malaysia Open Super Series Premier earlier this month, the legendary Chinese star did not have to exert unduly while notching a 21-17, 21-15 win over Japan’s Kanta Tsuneyama in the second round. On Friday, he runs into Taiwan’s No.7 seed, Chou Tien Chen, who had his hands full while subduing the battling Indonesian, Ihsan Maulana Mustofa, 21-16, 17-21, 21-13.
The chances are that the dream clash between Chong Wei and Super Dan will, indeed, take place in Wuhan on Saturday.
Updated Date: Apr 28, 2017 16:37:50 IST