Bubbling with confidence after lowering the colours of world champion Viktor Axelsen in the quarter-finals of the Denmark Open Superseries Premier badminton championship, India’s Kidambi Srikanth took Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki Vincent in his stride in Saturday’s semi-finals of the US$750,000 event, to line himself up for the fifth Superseries title of his career.
The 24-year-old-eighth-seeded Srikanth’s serene march to a 21-18, 21-17 verdict in a matter of 39 minutes over the 15th ranked Wong, three years his senior, propelled him into his third Superseries Premier final. The Ravulapalem (Andhra Pradesh) native had won the 2013 China Open and 2017 Indonesia Open tournaments that fell in this category, and was also the champion in the 2015 India Open and 2017 Australia Open, which were not Superseries Premier events.
In what was the fifth career meeting between two players boasting similar styles of play, Srikanth was full value for his success, and succeeded in breaking their 2-2 deadlock of matches, all of which had gone the full distance. The Indian showed no desperation throughout the course of the match; he was content in staying with his bustling rival in the rallies, and bided his time in both games before striking at crucial points.
After a quiet start to 5-all, Srikanth took a sizable jump to 12-6 with some controlled netplay and strong finishes. Although Wong, the son of Indonesian immigrants, staged a partial rally to narrow the advantage to 12-10, the Indian continued to keep himself at least a couple of points clear, to waltz merrily to the first game.
There was far more drama in the second stanza, when Srikanth’s initial 4-0 lead vaporised in the face of some inspired defending and counter-finishing by the speedy Hong Kong player. Wong caught up with his antagonist at 9-all, and went into lemon-time with a two-point advantage at 11-9.
The two remained neck-and-neck until 15-all, at which point Srikanth stepped up a gear, and moved to 18-15, before polishing off the match for the loss of two more points. Despite trailing by a point or two until midway through the game, the Indian never looked in danger of losing the game, such was the level of his confidence.
Srikanth goes into Sunday’s summit clash against surprise finalist, South Korea’s 37-year-old Lee Hyun Il, who gave his compatriot and top seed, Son Wan Ho, eight years his junior, a taste of his own medicine while outlasting him in an exhausting 92-minute battle of attrition, at 25-23, 18-21, 21-17.
The sporting crowd at the Odense Sports Park, who had seen the last of the Danish challenge evaporate with the eclipse of the top seeded men’s doubles combination of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen at the hands of the fifth-seeded Chinese pairing of Zhang Nan and Liu Cheng, stood to a man at the end of the Homeric tussle, and applauded the amazingly-fit Korean veteran, who had hung on to Son’s heels the entire way with all the tenacity of a well-trained bulldog.
Lee, who has risen in the past few months to No 22 in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, made light of a 12-18 deficit in the opening game to drag his opponent over the extra points. He saved two game-points before grabbing the first game that was vital to his plans of extending the encounter to a decider.
The old-timer fell behind in the second stanza, as a desperate Son upped the pace. Nevertheless, Lee made up a large 11-16 deficit to restore parity at 16-all, and briefly threaten to take the match in straight games. But the world No 2 stuck it out in the almost interminable rallies to pocket the second game.
The two Koreans, who obviously know each other’s games well, traded blow for blow in the rubber set, with first one eking out a marginal advantage, and then the other. As the duel neared its conclusion, the older man made up a 14-16 deficit, winning seven of the final eight points to pip his more illustrious Thomas Cup team-mate at the tape.
Amazing as it would seem, Lee’s final against Srikanth on Sunday will be the first meeting between the two. “I have never played him before, and I think he could be a tricky player to beat,” the Indian said, after learning the identity of his rival for the Denmark Open crown.
Students of the game will, however, bet strongly on Srikanth, with his ceaseless aggression and power, as also a 13-year age advantage, to slip it across the doughty fighter from Seoul, who has been on the international badminton circuit for just over two decades, and is currently enjoying a most fruitful second innings.
Meanwhile, the women’s singles final will feature Thailand’s artistic 2013 world champion, Ratchanok Intanon, against Japan’s stocky powerhouse, Akane Yamaguchi. The latter let her superior fitness weigh in the balance while narrowly pipping upcoming Chinese teenager Chen Yufei, conqueror of PV Sindhu in the first round, at 10-21, 21-18, 21-19, in an hour and five minutes.
In a far more entertaining match that lasted just two minutes less, but featured strokeplay of the highest order, the unseeded Intanon, currently ranked ninth in the world, not only showed a pleasing return to form, but also much improved fitness, while beating top-seeded Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei at 21-14, 20-22, 21-14.
In what was their 16th career meeting, the Thai registered her eighth victory over Tai, gaining sweet revenge for three successive reverses at the Taiwanese star’s hands in the past twelvemonth — at the Dubai Superseries grand finals in December 2016, and at the All England Superseries Premier and Australian Open this year.
It is clear that Tai, who won an unprecedented six successive Superseries tournament titles earlier this year, and went 30 matches without defeat, has lost steam after taking a bizarre decision to skip the World Championships in Glasgow in favour of the World University Games that were contested in her home town of Taipei. Her hegemony, it would seem, has been — at least temporarily — shattered.
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Updated Date: Oct 22, 2017 11:22:09 IST