BWF French Open 2019: India's men's doubles pair caps off memorable run with silver; Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu's improved show augurs well
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty’s performance in this $750,000 prize money competition was memorable for the destruction they caused in the draw.
The 11th-ranked Indians' performance in this $750,000 prize money competition was memorable for the destruction they caused in the draw.
Recently-crowned world champion PV Sindhu was finally able to shrug off her post-Basel lethargy.
There is plenty of quality in Saina still, and her supporters can look forward to some improved performances when the circuit moves back to the Far East.
It was an extended honeymoon, but it was too good to last. Indian men’s doubles specialists, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, found their giant-killing run in the French Open World Tour Super 750 badminton championships finally grinding to a halt in the face of a virtuoso performance from Indonesia’s World No 1 duo, Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, in Paris on Sunday.
The consistently excellent 28-year-old Gideon from Banten pooled his talent with the 24-year-old Sukamuljo from Kudus, Central Java, to pocket their seventh World Tour title of the year with a seventh victory in as many career meetings with the youthful Indians, by a 21-18, 21-16 margin.
The relatively tight scoreline actually flattered the Indians, for the match was nowhere near as close as it seemed from the final figures; and the 'Minions' (as they are widely known, from their senior compatriots, 'Daddies' Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan) were in command throughout the 35-minute duration of the contest.
No doubt Gideon and Sukamuljo were helped by the fact that the 22-year-old Shetty was far from his best on the day, and appeared nervous, ill-at-ease and prone to committing unforced errors. Even a better-than-normal showing from the 19-year-old Rankireddy failed to offset the lack of spark from his partner, as the Indians were outpaced and outmaneuvered by the top-seeded Indonesians, who are already being considered one of the greatest men’s doubles pairs of our generation.
Nevertheless, the 11th-ranked Indians’ performance in this $750,000 prize money competition was memorable for the destruction they caused in the draw, and should power them back into the ninth rank, which is the highest they have held, when the fresh rankings are announced later today (Monday).
Lowering the colours of two seeded and one until-recently-seeded combinations, including reigning world champions and second seeds, Ahsan and Setiawan (at 21-18, 18-21, 21-13), Danes Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (by a 21-13, 22-20 scoreline) and the Japanese No 5 seeds, Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe (at 21-11, 25-23, in an edge-of-the-seat thriller), on their way to the final were huge feathers in their cap.
Victories over the Ahsan-Setiawan and Endo-Watanabe pairs for the first time, after suffering multiple defeats at their hands in the past, showed that they belong with the best. Shetty is undoubtedly the playmaker in the Indian combination, defending even powerful smashes and drives with bent knees and shoulder-level racket in the manner made famous by South Korean Park Joo Bong. He is the eternal opportunist at the net, like Sukamuljo and Watanabe, and also procures the openings for his partner to finish off with that dreaded smash.
What struck observers of the matches was the steely temperament the Indians showed in the face of adversity. Shetty was faulted thrice on service in the second game of their semi-final clash against Endo-Watanabe, and at a time when they held a comfortable mid-game lead in the second stanza. Although the Mumbai lad was discomfited for a couple of points, and lost his rhythm, he put the reverse firmly behind him, and concentrated on closing the match out in two straight games.
Looking at this year’s French Open in retrospect, it may be submitted that the performance of the two Indians in the women’s singles event was nowhere near as disheartening as is being made out to be, even allowing that their compatriots in the men’s singles continued to disappoint.
Recently-crowned world champion PV Sindhu was finally able to shrug off her post-Basel lethargy and play to the potential that her record in big tournaments indicates. Starting off with a fluent 21-15, 21-13 win against Canadian Michelle Li, who occupies the No 8 slot on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, compared to her own No 6 position, Sindhu played equally well while posting an even more facile 21-10, 21-13 win over Singapore’s Yeo Jia Min, who had won the 2019 Hyderabad Open Super 100 tournament, earlier this year, at the expense of Korea’s An Se Young.
Admittedly, the 24-year-old Indian was unable to repeat her Basel World Championship quarter-final victory over Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying, but it was not for lack of trying. All of Sindhu’s fighting qualities were to the fore as she hunted down the bulk of her Taiwanese rival’s delectable, deceptive strokes, and kept the bird deep to avoid falling into Tai’s trap at the net.
The 16-21, 26-24, 17-21 defeat at Tai’s hands in Paris was a far stronger performance than Sindhu had put up in the three earlier tournaments she had played after donning the mantle of world champion, when she had looked rusty, distracted and out-of-sorts, and had failed to cross the second round in even one of the three.
The fact needs to be faced that Tai possesses a far superior arsenal of deceptive strokes, and keeps her rivals constantly off-balance, not allowing them to use their most potent weapons. Sindhu hardly got an opportunity to employ her big smash throughout the absorbing 75-minute contest, but was reduced to chasing the shuttle to all corners of the court at the Stade Pierre de Coubertin. That she stayed in the rallies, and stretched the Taiwanese ace to the limits, spoke much in her favour.
What Sindhu requires to unsettle Tai is that fine edge in speed, to reach the shuttle that split-second earlier, and so, to be able to produce some sort of counter-offensive. This is something that Olympic gold medalist and three-time former world champion Carolina Marin did, in her penultimate-round face-off with the Taiwanese. The Spanish southpaw kept Tai away from the net, and also kept getting that extra shuttle back, forcing the unapologetic stroke-player into errors.
Putting in that little bit extra into her training just before the major events will help Sindhu to bridge that gap – as she has managed to do on so many earlier occasions. It is simply not possible to maintain that high level of speed and fitness throughout the sorely taxing season, so her fans can expect her to put in that extra effort before the World Tour Finals in Guangzhou in December, where she will enter the fray as the defending champion.
As for Saina Nehwal, now in the eventide of what has been a wonderful career lasting well over a decade, her 23-21, 21-17 opening-round triumph against the dangerous Hong Kong player, Cheung Ngan Yi, showed that the old tigress has lost few of her teeth. It was, incidentally, a repeat of their encounter at last year’s French Open, when Saina had scraped through over the extra points in the deciding game.
The 29-year-old was even more authoritative while knocking out the Danish World no 27, Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt, at 21-10, 21-11 in the second round. Her quarter-final defeat by a 20-22, 21-23 scoreline at the hands of the eventual champion, An Se Young, must be viewed against the backdrop of the manner of the 17-year-old Korean’s subsequent victories – by a 21-17, 23-21 margin over Japanese No 2 seed, Akane Yamaguchi, in the semi-final, and at 16-21, 21-18, 21-5 over Marin in the final.
Those who witnessed An’s comprehensive third-game demolition of the feisty and mentally tough Marin could appreciate what Saina had been able to achieve in the course of her quarter-final duel against the fast, fit, temperamentally sturdy Korean. There is plenty of life in those limbs yet, and her supporters can look forward to some improved performances when the international shuttle circus moves back to the Far East to showcase year-ending competitions in Macau, Hong Kong, and China.
It was a second straight 5-0 win for India, with the team having beaten the Netherlands by an identical margin on Sunday.
Lakshya, who had finished runners-up at Dutch Open last Sunday, dished out a superb performance to outclass national champion Sourabh 21-9, 21-7 in 26 minutes.
The world No 25 and tournament top seed Sen went down to the 41st-ranked Yew 12-21, 16-21 in the final, which lasted for 36 minutes.