China Open 2018: Anthony Ginting's grit, tactical acumen on show in title win; Carolina Marin reigns supreme
What was absolutely amazing about Ginting's phenomenal run to the title was the fact that, from an unseeded spot in the draw, he powered past five world champions.
No longer can it be considered a fluke or just a major stroke of luck. In Sunday's men's singles final of the China Open World Tour Super 1000 badminton championships, pint-sized Indonesian dynamo, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, repeated his Asian Games triumph over Japan's recently crowned world champion, Kento Momota, to pocket the winner's cheque of $70,000 in the $1 million tournament.
The 21-year-old Indonesian's 63-minute 23-21, 21-19 triumph at the Olympic Sports Center in Changzhou over the Japanese left-hander, three years his senior, came on the back of a 21-18, 21-18 victory at the Asian Games, almost exactly a month ago.
The prestigious China Open win brought their head-to-head tally to 3-4 against Ginting's name, and firmly reversed the trend of three losses in a row that the young Indonesian had suffered at Momota's hands at the Malaysian and Indonesian Opens earlier this year, and at the team event at the Asian Games.
What was absolutely amazing about Ginting's phenomenal run to the title was the fact that, from an unseeded spot in the draw, he powered past four world champions – Lin Dan in the first round, top-seeded Viktor Axelsen in the second; Chen Long in the quarter-finals and reigning world champion and third seed, Kento Momota, in the finals.
Along the way, he also aced the dangerous fifth-seeded Chinese Taipei ace, Chou Tien Chen, in the semi-finals. Ginting confounded all the experts who had predicted that the super-fit and super-confident Momota would gain sweet revenge for his Asiad loss.
It must be noted that none of these victories came the easy way. Ginting trailed in the closing reaches of the decider against Lin Dan, before winning at 22-24, 21-5, 21-19. Do note the score of the second game, which the legendary Chinese left-hander was forced to throw, to conserve his energies for the decider. He knocked out a below-par Axelsen in straight games at 21-18, 21-17, but the rangy Dane kept him on court for 45 minutes.
The 18-21, 22-20, 21-16 scoreline in the quarter-final against Chen took 85 minutes, but the Indonesian did not have to face a match-point during the bitterly fought second game. In the semi-final clash, Ginting kept Chou on court for 68 minutes before subduing the Taiwanese 12-21, 21-17, 21-15. He did not let the trouncing he got in the opening game bother him.
The detailed scores of the five rounds that Ginting had to play, on his way to the title allowed several conclusions – there can be no doubting the physical fitness of the 5' 7" Indonesian, who has come across as arguably the speediest player in the world.
A valuable addition to his speed and fitness is an indomitable fighting spirit, as well as a commendable understanding of the finer points and nuances of the game. His unflappable temperament could be gauged from the manner in which he did not let the loss of the first game against Super Dan, Chen or Chou bother him, but knuckled down to the task of restoring parity, and then pushing for victory.
Ginting's tactical acumen was also on show against Momota, whose own progress to the final had been far, far smoother. Facile, straight-games wins against Frenchman Brice Leverdez, fellow-countryman Kenta Nishimoto, India's seventh seed Kidambi Srikanth, and No 2 seed, Shi Yuqi, whom he demolished 21-10, 21-17 in front of the latter's adoring home crowds.
With the realisation that Momota had a strong defence and was capable of playing lengthy rallies if required, Ginting eschewed his normal bustling, speed-and-power oriented game and used the smash sparingly, conserving his energies for the long haul. He also stuck to Momota like a leech, rarely permitting the world champion to take a runaway lead.
The Indonesian's tactic of cautiousness, rather than trying to blast his antagonist off the court, threw the Japanese southpaw totally off his stride. The only time Momota took a big lead in the opening game was to move from 15-14 to 19-14. But Ginting caught up in a trice and kept his head over the extra points, to pocket the opener.
It was virtually an identical story in the second stanza, with Momota moving to 13-8 and 15-10 leads, but being unable to make that final dash to the tape. Ginting caught up at 16-all, and once again showed unexpected maturity in the end-game to outwit his rival. The result made up for the trauma that Ginting would have suffered in the final of the Asian Games, when he held match-point against compatriot Jonatan Christie, but just could not secure that all-important final point.
If the diminutive Indonesian stuck the blot of only a sixth defeat to the 96-win record that Momota has notched since his return to the circuit in April 2017 after serving a one-year ban for gambling at an illegal casino, Spaniard Carolina Marin continued her recent run of outstanding form by cutting down local hope, Chen Yufei, to size at 21-18, 21-13 in 47 minutes.
Marin, seeded sixth, one rung behind her Chinese rival, has re-discovered the footspeed and form that had brought her two world championship titles in 2014 and 2015, and the Olympic gold medal at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Regaining her world crown at Nanjing last month, the Spanish left-hander has proceeded to retain the Japan Open title and the China Open trophy to her overflowing satchel.
With World No 1 Tai Tzu Ying's form and confidence showing a sharp dip in recent weeks, Marin is currently the player to follow. Amazingly, she has won all three titles without having to cross swords with the strokeful Taiwanese ace even once. The path to the summit has been obligingly cleared for her each time by a trio of young Chinese stars, just out of their teens, who may well prove a handful at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – He Bingjiao, Chen Xiaoxin and Gao Fangjie.
Chen Yufei, the fourth Chinese aspirant to the gold medal at Tokyo in two years' time, has not quite been able to decipher the Marin puzzle, as the two straight-games defeats at the hands of the Spaniard this year reveal. But give her a little time and this spiky-haired 20-year-old, who has scalped almost all the top-ten players in the recent past, is bound to show the moxie to reach for the summit.
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