“If one goes by the form-book at these championships, the chances are that Sunday will witness a Sindhu-Yamaguchi clash for the richest prize in the sport.”
“The sole motivation for Srikanth to stay on in Dubai for another two days would be to cheer compatriot PV Sindhu as she makes a bid for the women’s singles crown. For Ng Ka Long Angus, however, staying even an additional day in the desert emirate would be tantamount to inviting more heartburn — as he would, in all likelihood, have to watch Lee Chong Wei perform a clinical hatchet job on the 29-year-old Korean he surrendered to in such controversial circumstances, only a day earlier!”
These were the concluding comments in my preview of the singles semi-finals of the $1 million prize money Dubai World Superseries Finals, penned late on Friday night after witnessing some of the contrived results in the concluding group-stage matches at the Sheikh Hamdan Indoor Stadium in this Arabian desert emirate. And I venture to say that Nostradamus could hardly have done a better job.
PV Sindhu, silver medallist at both the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2017 Glasgow World Championships, gave herself an outstanding chance of going one step further, and becoming the first Indian to be decorated with the yellow metal at the season-ending championship. But she had to work really hard to sideline the world junior champion and Dubai debutant, Chen Yufei, by a 59-minute 21-15, 21-18 verdict, the scoreline failing to reflect the closeness of the tussle.
Slogging even harder than Sindhu, and pulling back from the brink of the precipice in the nick of time, Japan’s 20-year-old Akane Yamaguchi revealed her commendable fitness levels and never-say-die -attitude, by overturning a 14-18 deficit in the decider of a titanic 72-minute battle royale against Thailand’s 2013 world champion, Ratchanok Intanon, to run out a 17-21, 21-12, 21-19 winner in the other semi-final.
As for Malaysia’s 35-year-old Lee Chong Wei, the durable veteran showed that his indifferent results throughout the 2017 season were no more than a minor aberration on his nearly two-decade-long international career, by striding confidently into his fifth Superseries Finals summit clash with a 49-minute 21-17, 21-11 pummeling of South Korean top seed Son Won Ho.
In Sunday’s title encounter, Lee will take on reigning world champion Viktor Axelsen, after the towering 23-year-old Danish defending champion reached his third consecutive year-end final by effectively reversing his group stage defeat by 21-year-old Shi Yuqi (pronounced ‘Yoo-chee’), with a runaway 21-12, 21-8 triumph in 41 minutes, in what was just the second meeting between the two top-notchers. Fittingly, the men’s singles final will pit the world’s two top ranked players against each other for the richest prize in the sport.
Sindhu was able to extend her lead in career head-to-heads over Chen to 4-2, in what was her fifth encounter with the exciting 19-year-old Chinese ace during the course of 2017 alone. The rangy Hyderabadi was also able to break the pattern of alternate victories by the two rivals, and revealed that her 21-14, 21-14 triumph in the French Open in the closing days of October had been testimony to a greater level of dominance against Chen.
Yes, she had been beaten by the Chinese youngster in the opening round of the Denmark Open Superseries Premier, just nine days earlier, but, as the Indian pointed out, the match had been played in extremely trying playing conditions in Odense (Axelsen’s home town), with the cross-drift in the hall making shuttle control impossible from one side of the court.
“The playing conditions in Odense were horrendous, but they were much better in Paris, and I could hit to the corners of the court without fearing that the shuttle would veer out,” Sindhu said, recalling her European sojourn in October. “As far as this match (in Dubai) goes, it was a good quality match. “Even though it was over in straight games, there were a lot of long rallies here. Basically, I was smart to take two or three points when she caught up with me. It was like playing in front of a home crowd, and it’s good to see so many Indians supporting me here.”
It was obvious from the cautious manner in which Chen played that she had a healthy respect for her opponent’s 5’ 10” height, reach and power. The length of her tosses and clears was generally impeccable, but whenever she hit anything even slightly short, she was punished. The Chinese could not read the pace, angle and direction of Sindhu’s smashes when the shuttle failed to cross the inner line at the back of the court (used in the doubles service).
Both girls played the net well, and executed the overhead drops with aplomb. Sindhu, thanks to her reach, was a little less troubled than the 5’ 6” Chen who, incidentally, happens to be one of the taller female Chinese players on the world circuit. Both were able to probe the corners of the court and stay with each other in the longer rallies; and it was clear that the Indian was not overly bothered by the tight strapping on her upper left thigh.
“It was basically precautionary, as I had felt a little bit of tightness after Friday’s match against Akane,” Sindhu said. “But I am not going to expect anything tomorrow. It might be a long match; and it won’t be as easy as it was yesterday (against Yamaguchi), when I had a big advantage of taking a 11-2 lead. I may be the first Indian in the final (of a year-ending championship), but I would like to become the first Indian to win the title as well!”
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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2017 11:56 AM