Kidambi Srikanth could not have asked for a more conducive valedictory script to the $750,000 Denmark Open, even if he had been asked to write it himself. Sunday’s men’s singles final at the Odense Sports Park looked more like a totally mismatched club-level tournament’s opening-round match than the summit clash of a prestigious Superseries Premier badminton championship.
In a matter of 25 minutes of embarrassingly one-sided action, the 24-year-old eighth-ranked Indian secured the fifth Superseries title of his career, and the winner’s cheque of $56,000, with a 21-10, 21-5 victory over unseeded 37-year-old South Korean Lee Hyun Il, who could barely move on the court in the aftermath of his excruciatingly lengthy and demanding 92-minute semi-final battle the previous day over his top-seeded compatriot, Son Wan Ho.
It becomes an even more demanding task for the journalist covering such a title bout to describe the on-court happenings without drawing yawns from his audience. There was literally nothing that the stiff and sore Korean veteran, who sits on the 22nd rung of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder, could do against the speedy, aggressive Indian, who appeared to be a full step quicker and able to stretch much more than his hapless rival.
Lee was in the lead on two all-too-brief occasions during the drab encounter — at 3-1 in the opening game, and 1-0 in the second stanza. As can be observed, this correspondent has had to literally scrounge and scrape the bottom of the barrel to locate situations where the Korean’s star was on the ascendant!
Once Srikanth caught up with Lee at 3-all, he simply kept widening the gap between the two with exquisite netplay and follow-up smashes off the midcourt clears. Going into lemon-time with a 11-6 advantage, Srikanth went on enlarging his lead to 13-7 and 20-8, before wrapping up the opening game for the loss of two more points.
The essentially defensive Korean had to be at his physical best to have harboured any hopes of returning the Indian ace’s smashes, which were cleverly varied for pace and angle. But his physical condition would not permit him to stretch from side to side; and, as the second game progressed swiftly to an 11-1 advantage for the Andhra player at the mid-point, he appeared resigned to the inevitable.
Srikanth thus secured the distinction of becoming the second Indian male player, after the legendary Prakash Padukone in 1980, to win the coveted Denmark Open singles title; Saina Nehwal remains the only Indian woman player to bag the crown. It was also the third Superseries Premier title of his career, behind the 2013 China Open and 2017 Indonesia Open.
With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that the turning point in Srikanth’s campaign in this competition was when he mounted that desperate last-ditch assault on local hero, Viktor Axelsen, when trailing 17-19 in the second game of their quarter-final, after losing the first tamely at 14-21.
Srikanth’s three-point reel to 20-19, played at a furious pace at what ought to have been the fag-end of the end, took the recently crowned world champion completely unawares, and rattled him no end. Once the Indian kept his nerve to win the second game at 22-20, he broke the mental resistance of the towering Dane; and then simply rode triumphantly along the downcurve of the roller-coaster to the title.
For his Korean opponent, the cumulative exhaustion of spending long hours on court while lowering the colours of a bunch of quality players eventually took its toll. The impressive veteran spent four hours and 20 minutes on court in four matches prior to the final — the most by any player, male or female, in the tournament.
Lee, in the midst of his third comeback to international badminton, accounted for two-time former world champion Chen Long of China (at 21-19, 22-20 in exactly an hour) in the first round, Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsak (at 15-21, 21-19, 21-14 in 70 minutes) in the second round, England’s Rajiv Ouseph (at 24-22, 21-6 in 38 minutes) in the quarter-final, and fellow-Korean Son (at 25-23, 17-21, 21-18 in 92 minutes) in the semi-final.
In sharp contrast to the men’s singles final, the women’s title joust provided fireworks galore, with Japan’s fourth-seeded Akane Yamaguchi, stretching the World No 9 player, Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand, over three tightly contested games before capitulating at 21-14, 15-21, 19-21 in seven minutes over the hour mark.
As she had done in the semi-final against the world’s top-ranked player, Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei, Intanon made full use of her rich repertoire of strokes, and showed substantially improved fitness levels against the stocky Japanese powerhouse, to bring back memories of her halcyon days, when she had captured the 2013 World Championship as a raw 18-year-old, at the expense of China’s Li Xuerui.
Subsequent injuries, loss of form, indifferent fitness levels and the huge pressure of expectations from the Thai people (there was a time when Intanon’s face looked out at Bangkok’s traffic-choked roads from every alternate hoarding), as also the arrival on the scene of equally talented stroke-makers like Taiwan’s Tai and the mentally strong Spaniard, Carolina Marin, had seen the Thai shuttle queen’s fortunes take a nosedive over the past four years.
It is therefore wonderful to see her back among the titles, fitter, just as strokeful and injury-free. After all, she is only 22, and remains one of the most artistic stroke-makers in the world, with the extremely desirable ability of putting bums on seats.
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Updated Date: Oct 23, 2017 09:27:30 IST