Denmark Open: Saina Nehwal strides into final against Tai Tzu Ying; Kidambi Srikanth proves no match for Kento Momota
In the battle between experience and youth, it was the experienced Saina Nehwal who came out triumphant as she beat Gregoria Mariska Tunjung in the semi-final.
It was experience pitted against the effervescence of youth in the semi-final duel between two unseeded players in the women's singles draw at the Denmark Open. And it was the experienced player who won hands-down and rendered the penultimate-round joust a no-contest.
Badminton aficionados who had thought that the great new Indonesian hope 19-year-old Gregoria Mariska Tunjung, would give the battle-scarred Saina Nehwal a run for her money were doomed to disappointment as the Indian veteran handed out a comprehensive 21-11, 21-12 thrashing to the teenager in exactly half an hour.
The scores were similarly one-sided in the men's singles semi-final between defending champion Kidambi Srikanth and second seed, Kento Momota of Japan. But sadly, it was the Indian who was at the receiving end of an eminently forgettable 42-minute long 16-21, 12-21 pummelling, his sixth consecutive defeat at Momota's hands in a dozen meetings, and his fourth this year alone.
One vital match statistic reveals just how much the 28-year-old Saina dominated her first international meeting with Tunjung. The Indonesian was in the lead for almost a shorter period than it takes to blink the eye – she won the very first point of the match, and was then left playing catch-up for the entire duration of the encounter. Tunjung trailed throughout the first game and only drew level at 7-all in the second for another all-too-brief moment. Otherwise, it was Saina all the way.
Saina, a winner in this competition six years ago, literally intimidated her opponent with relentless aggression, only resorting to a series of deep tosses once in a while, to prevent her opponent from gaining any sort of rhythm. The Indonesian kept looking forlornly at her coach, seated at courtside, as Saina kept mercilessly piling on the pressure and the points
Under the guidance of stand-in coach Parupalli Kashyap, who has proved to be her mentor and good-luck charm in Odense, the Haryanvi handled the cross-drift in the Odense Sports Park hall much better than Tunjung. The Indonesian played too short in the first game when she had the advantage of hitting against the drift and repeatedly over-hit the bird from the opposite side in the second game.
As on the previous two days against the Japanese front-liners, Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara, Saina dominated the net with tight dribbles and the occasional deceptive wristy placement that would have done Ratchanok Intanon proud. The Indian's sideline smashes off some of the mid-court returns from the Indonesian were noteworthy for their pinpoint placement and brooked no return.
Saina, however, will need every ounce of her concentration, iron temperament, new-found stamina, footspeed and returning skills if she is to make any impression on the morrow on her rival, the World No 1 and top seed, Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei.
Tai barreled into the final with an equally facile 21-14, 21-12 victory in the other semi-final over the dangerous No 7 seed from China, He Bingjiao – a match which featured badminton of a far higher quality. Coincidentally, Tai also took exactly half an hour to subdue the Chinese southpaw, who was by no means intimidated by the exquisite strokeplay and deception of the Taiwanese ace and gave back almost as good as she got.
It was, however, disconcerting for Bingjiao to find that despite matching Tai stroke for stroke, she kept inexorably falling behind after every few rallies. From 9-all in the first game and 8-all in the second, Tai showed a clean pair of heels to the Chinese left-hander. The 24-year-old Taiwanese was unrelenting and dictated the pace and trend of the rallies to such an extent that the Chinese player saw the writing on the wall midway through the second game and thereafter just went through the motions against her palpably superior opponent.
For Saina, too, it could be a tough mountain to climb in Sunday's final. The Indian has freely admitted that Tai is the most difficult opponent she has faced on the global circuit and has found it as hard to unravel the puzzle of the Taipei player's outlandish deception as she once did against China's Li Xuerui.
The head-to-head record between Saina and Tai is weighted heavily in the latter's favour. The two have met on 17 previous occasions and the Indian trails 5-12 to Tai. What is even more disheartening is the fact that Saina has failed to beat Tai for the past five-and-a-half years with her last victory coming in the March 2013 Swiss Open. Thereafter, Tai has won ten times in an unbroken reel, including straight-games triumphs on the last six occasions.
It was the same kind of depressing arithmetic that Srikanth had to grapple with, when he faced Momota, barely 12 hours after he had taken 78 excruciating minutes to beat Sameer Verma. Not surprisingly, there was no spring at all in the legs, as the 25-year-old Guntur lad moved sluggishly and disconsolately around the court, only able to put up token resistance against a well-rested Momota, who had had a 21-13, 21-9 stroll in the park on Friday against Thailand's Khosit Phetpradab. The prospect of suffering a fourth successive defeat to the Japanese southpaw in 2018 alone also appeared to weigh on Srikanth's mind.
The result sent the resurgent 24-year-old Japanese left-hander into his first Denmark Open summit clash, where he will take on the winner of the other semi-final between Anders Antonsen of the host nation and the No 4 seed from Chinese Taipei, Chou Tien Chen. So fresh and rejuvenated does Momota appear after a three-week long rest that, let alone Antonsen or Chou, it will take a fully-loaded freight train to stop him in his tracks!
A struggling Kidambi Srikanth was outplayed by his world number 2 opponent and Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Viktor Axelsen, who won the first match 21-12, 21-13 in 38 minutes.
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