BWF World Tour Finals: Sameer Verma in strong position for qualification after win over Tommy Sugiarto

What a massive difference a single day can make to the fortunes of a player in a tournament where matches are played every day, and there is scant recovery time!

India’s Sameer Verma, who qualified in seventh place for the eight-player men’s singles event of the World Tour badminton finals in Guangzhou, looked down and out after his one-sided defeat at the hands of World No 1 and top seed, Kento Momota of Japan, in a Group A clash on Wednesday.

Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto, on the other hand, had had to struggle for just under an hour-and-a-half to get the better of Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen in the same group, in the longest match of the opening day.

File image of Indian shuttler Sameer Verma. PTI

File image of Indian shuttler Sameer Verma. PTI

Amazingly, the manner in which these two matches panned out worked enormously in the 24-year-old Verma’s favour, for he was far fresher and nimble on his feet than the 30-year-old Sugiarto when the two clashed in the opening match of Day Two of the season-ending finals. The Indonesian appeared stiff and stale when he took the court at the Tiansu Gymnasium on Thursday morning.

Verma’s comfortable 21-16, 21-7 triumph in 40 minutes put him in an extremely strong position for qualification to the play-off semi-finals, particularly after Momota scored a runaway 21-15, 21-7 victory over Wangcharoen, and stayed on top of the group with two wins and no defeats.

No doubt Sugiarto had the badminton pedigree to trouble Verma. The combative Indonesian was ranked as high as No 3 in the world in 2013, almost a year before he won a bronze medal at the BWF World Championships in Copenhagen, coincidentally the same city in which his father Icuk had won the 1983 world title from compatriot Liem Swie King after a humdinger of a final, lasting 100 minutes.

Sugiarto stayed with Verma in the initial stages of the encounter till 6-all, after which the Indian put on a spurt to go to 10-6 and 11-8. The younger man stayed ahead by at least two points for the residual part of the game, save at 14-17, when the veteran made a supreme effort to narrow the gap to a single point.

The problem for the essentially defensive Indonesian was to recover from his acrobatic dives made to return the Indian’s smashes, and get into position for the next stroke. He kept reaching his mark for the follow-up stroke a split-second later than he is used to, and thus constantly allowed Verma the upper hand in the rally.

Once Verma had taken the opening game with an unbroken four-point burst at the end, he sensed that his opponent appeared to be in increasing distress, as far as court movements were concerned. After opening to a 5-3 lead, Sugiarto found himself struggling constantly to stay in the rallies, and reach Verma’s none-too-powerful smashes, which were cannily aimed at the sidelines. The Indonesian could garner only two more points in the match as Verma showed him a clean pair of heels.

Having improved his situation in the group to 1-1, Verma has been left with a relatively easy task on Friday against Wangcharoen. If he beats the Thai, he will qualify cleanly in second place from Group A for Saturday’s penultimate round clashes. However, even if he loses to the Thai youngster, the Indian can qualify -- provided he wins one game from his last group encounter.

Here’s how that equation works: It is almost inconceivable that Momota will lose his final group match on Friday against Sugiarto. On current form, Sugiarto, for all his heroics in the first half of the ongoing decade, simply cannot hope to topple Momota.

Thus, Momota stands to end up the group topper with three wins and zero defeats, and qualifies in first place. This result, of course, is based on the assumption that the Japanese left-hander does not pull up injured in his final group clash against Sugiarto. The remaining three players end up joint-second, with one win and two defeats each. Whereupon, there will be a countback of games won versus games lost.

Verma, with his win over Sugiarto, has a current games count of 2-2. If he beats Wangcharoen on Friday, he goes through without any need to pull out the calculators. However, if loses to the Thai in three games on Friday, his net result will be 3-4, i.e. -1. If he loses in two straight games, his nett result will be 2-4, i.e.-2.

Sugiarto, who beat Wangcharoen in three games on Wednesday, is presently 2-3 on games count. After his clash against Momota, the Indonesian is likely to end up 2-5, or, at best, 3-5, if he wins one of three games (thus, nett -3 or -2). It is almost certain that Sugiarto is out of the race for a semi-final slot.

As for Wangcharoen, he is currently in the cellar, on 1-4, after winning a solitary game in his opener against Sugiarto. If he loses to Verma, he will finish in the cellar with three defeats, without a win. If he beats Verma in three games, he will end his campaign on 3-5, i.e. -2. But if he wins in straight games, the nett result will be 3-4, i.e. -1.

That would allow the Thai to squeeze through into second place in the group, pipping both Verma (-2, since it will have been a straight-games loss against Wangcharoen) and Sugiarto (-2 or -3, depending on the result of the latter’s tie against Momota).

The equation is, therefore, clear as crystal. Sameer Verma has to either beat Kantaphon Wangcharoen, or lose to him in three games, to ensure qualification for the semi-finals. Considering the fact that the Indian scored over the Thai in three games (21-14, 11-21, 21-12) in their most recent meeting, at the Swiss Open in February this year, it appears to be an eminently achievable proposition.

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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2018 19:09:31 IST

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