French Open Superseries: Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy set up exciting semi-final; imperious PV Sindhu wins
Srikanth’s come-from-behind performance against the 2017 All-England runner-up was a near-replica of his showing against Danish world champion Viktor Axelsen in the Denmark Open semi-finals last week
Whatever be the results of Saturday’s semi-finals of the French Open Superseries Badminton Championships, there will be an Indian in the men’s singles final of the $3,75,000 event, as Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy negotiated their respective quarter-finals in contrasting fashion, and qualified to take each other on at the last-four stage.
Even as Prannoy hit top gear to notch a comfortable 47-minute 21-16, 21-16 victory over South Korea’s Jeon Hyeok Jin, Srikanth almost came a cropper in two straight games against China’s Shi Yuqi, whom he had displaced from the fourth rung of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings only on Thursday.
The 24-year-old Indian steadied himself in the nick of time to pip the 21-year-old Chinese shuttler in the closing reaches of the second game, and then simply floored the gas pedal to run away with the decider, for an 8-21, 21-19, 21-9 triumph in one minute over the hour mark.
In retrospect, one could see that Srikanth’s come-from-behind performance against the 2017 All-England runner-up was a near-replica of his showing against Danish world champion Viktor Axelsen in the Denmark Open semi-finals last week, when he had overturned a one-game deficit to squeak home in the second, and then simply bludgeoned his way to victory in the third.
Shi Yuqi’s spirit in the decider was broken in exactly the same manner as Axelsen’s had been at Odense last week, by a speedy, aggressive, hyper-confident Srikanth, whose lasting powers and fitness levels today are almost unrecognisable from what they were in even the first quarter of the current year. All credit to the Indonesian singles coach, Mulyo Handoyo, brought in by Pullela Gopichand last year for this very purpose.
The winner of the semi-final between the two Indians will take on the winner of the other last-four clash between two unseeded players — the fast-emerging Dane, Anders Antonsen, and the 40th ranked qualifier Kenta Nishimoto.
Antonsen was full value for his 21-16, 21-16 success over Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long Angus, while Nishimoto waged a Homeric battle to subdue young Indonesian Anthony Sinisuka Ginting at 14-21, 21-10, 21-14 in a 66-minute quarter-final that finished three-quarters of an hour after midnight.
Sindhu storms past Chen Yufei
Earlier in the day, second-seeded Pusarla Venkata Sindhu was in an implacable mood as she avenged her first-round Denmark Open defeat at the hands of Chinese teenager Chen Yufei, with a resounding 21-14, 21-14 win in just 42 minutes. The lanky Indian, who edged 3-2 ahead of Chen in their career head-to-heads, will take on Japan’s fifth-seeded Akane Yamaguchi on Saturday for a place in the final.
Yamaguchi fought like a cornered tiger and saved two match-points at 18-20 in the deciding game of her quarter-final against South Korea’s No 3 seed, Sung Ji Hyun, to come through their 79-minute quarter-final by a wafer-thin 17-21, 21-15, 23-21 scoreline. The match provided glimpses of the indomitable spirit that had taken the diminutive Japanese dynamo to the World No 2 spot a few weeks ago.
The other women’s semi-final will witness a battle between Chinese Taipei’s top-seeded Tai Tzu Ying and China’s seventh-seeded He Bingjiao. The Chinese southpaw was sorely troubled in the opening game by Korea’s Lee Jang Mi, but piled on the pressure in the second, to run out a comfortable 25-23, 21-10 victor.
Tai, meanwhile, extracted full vengeance from Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon for her defeat in the semi-finals of the recent Denmark Open Superseries Premier, with an outstanding 21-17, 21-12 triumph in two minutes over the half-hour mark. The Taiwanese was just too swift on her feet on the day, fully in control of the rallies, and had the 2013 world champion chasing the bird all over the court with some artistic and deceptive shots.
There can be no doubting the fact that Sindhu would be fancying her chances on Saturday against Yamaguchi, whom she has beaten thrice in four earlier meetings, including the last three in a row. Most recently, the two had clashed at the group stage of the 2016 Dubai Superseries Grand Finals, exactly ten months ago, and Sindhu had run out a convincing 12-21, 21-8, 21-15 winner.
The 22-year-old Sindhu’s height, reach and clever use of the overhead crosscourt smash have combined to give her a massive advantage over the pugnacious 20-year-old Japanese, who possesses good stamina and speed of foot, and has shown willingness to keep on scrapping till the cows come home.
After a patchy start to this tournament, when she struggled to counter the none-too-strong challenge of Spain’s Beatriz Corrales in her opening match, the Indian has built up a head of steam, and scored commanding victories over Japan’s Sayaka Takahashi and China’s Chen Yufei. Not having been really extended in three rounds of this French Open, Sindhu will be fresher than Yamaguchi, who really had to pull out all the stops in her wafer-thin win over Sung.
Meanwhile, in what will cause dismay to Indian badminton fans, the youthful Indian men’s doubles combination of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty narrowly failed to puncture the formidable reputation of the world’s top ranked combination of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen, and capitulated at 5-21, 21-17, 17-21, in a battle-royale that lasted a minute short of the one-hour mark.
There is no attempt here at embroidery; the raw truth of the matter is that the Indians would not have been flattered if they had scalped their second Danish pair in as many days, having eliminated the sixth seeded pair of Mads Pieler Kolding and Mads-Conrad Pedersen on Thursday.
Having been totally swept off their feet in the opening stanza, Rankireddy and Shetty matched their opponents in all departments of the game, to take the second game with a degree of comfort. When the two teams stood locked at 17-all in the decider, the Indians stood on the threshold of what would have been the single most impressive result of their fledgling careers.
Alas, it was not to be! The rich international experience of the Danes helped them get across the line against their young rivals, whose unbridled excitement — and, of course, palpable nervousness — at being within hand-shaking distance of their objective induced a couple of extremely costly errors, and wrested the game away from them.
But the brooding valedictory phrase from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator movie — “We’ll be back!”— can well be applied to these young lads, who showed off the hardwork that Malaysian coach Tan Kim Her has put into their training in the course of the past 18 months, and turned them into the future of Indian men’s doubles.
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