The chief emotion for Indian badminton supporters at the Stade Pierre de Coubertin in Paris on Thursday was a feeling of déjà vu.
In two of Thursday’s second-round French Open Superseries badminton singles encounters, there was a repeat of clashes that had taken place in the Denmark Open Superseries Premier less than a week ago. The top two Indian shuttlers produced near mirror-images of the results they had done in Odense.
Eighth-seeded Kidambi Srikanth, who has risen four spots to the fourth position in the latest Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, and who had beaten Wong Wing Ki Vincent in straight games in the semi-final last Saturday on his way to the Danish title, repeated his triumph over the Hong Kong bustler in similar fashion, and by almost identical scores — 21-19, 21-17 in 37 minutes, compared to the 21-18, 21-17 verdict that had used up two additional minutes at Odense Park.
Srikanth’s stable-mate at the Pullela Gopichand Academy, Saina Nehwal, was unable to overturn the 29-minute 21-10, 21-13 reverse she had suffered in Odense at the hands of Japan’s fifth-seeded Akane Yamaguchi, and capitulated again in Paris.
The 27-year-old Indian’s defeat by a 21-9, 23-21 scoreline took 10 minutes longer than it had in Denmark, but it only succeeded in putting her further down at 1-3 in the career head-to-head meetings with the stocky 20-year-old Japanese powerhouse, who progressed to a quarter-final meeting with South Korea’s 25-year-old third seed, Sung Ji Hyun.
However, second-seeded PV Sindhu played far better than she had on the opening day of the $325,000 event, and overwhelmed Japan’s Sayaka Takahashi by a 21-14, 21-13 margin. The gangling Indian, who appeared sharp and aggressive against the Japanese, earned a revenge quarter-final meeting with Chinese teenager Chen Yufei, who had knocked her out in the opening round of the Denmark Open last week in two straight, albeit tough, games.
Like Nehwal, whose form has unaccountably dipped after her outstanding opening-round victory in Odense over Spain’s 2016 Olympic gold medallist, Carolina Marin, B Sai Praneeth put up only lukewarm resistance while going down to 23-year-old Japanese qualifier Kenta Nishimoto at 13-21, 17-21 in 44 minutes.
The result was not entirely unexpected, for Praneeth has witnessed a sharp drop in form and performance after his exploits in tournaments leading up to the World Championships, like the Singapore Open Superseries, in which he had surprised Srikanth to bag the crown.
The former Indian national champion had shown a streak of prodigality in his first-round fixture with Thailand’s Khosit Phetpradab, winning narrowly in three games after squandering huge 15-6 and 16-9 leads in the second game; and his defeat at Nishimoto’s hands did not quite cause the flutter it would have, a few months ago.
As for the 40th-ranked Nishimoto, shock conqueror of Malaysia’s aging seventh seed, Lee Chong Wei, in his opening round on Wednesday, the Japanese will cross swords in Friday’s quarter-final with Indonesia’s up-and-coming Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, who had scant difficulty in dispatching Hong Kong’s Hu Yun at 21-7, 21-16 in two minutes under the half-hour mark.
The most impressive Indian performer of the day was HS Prannoy, who made light of what could have been a tricky pre-quarter-final clash with Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus, winning at 21-11, 21-12 in a minute under the half-hour mark.
The 25-year-old Prannoy, who was born in Kerala, but has been training in Hyderabad now for several years, showed a confident streak while taming the man who had sent the tournament’s second seed, Son Wan Ho of South Korea, home in his opening outing.
In Friday’s quarter-finals, Prannoy runs into another Korean, Jeon Hyeok Jin, who settled the pretensions of China’s Qiao Bin in a long-drawn battle at 21-16, 13-21, 21-12. Giant-killer Jeon, who had easily knocked out an off-colour No 5 seed, Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei, in his lung-opener, clashes with Prannoy in the final quarter of the draw.
As for the red-hot Srikanth, whose exploits are being closely monitored by the global badminton community with an eye to locate a way of halting his all-conquering march, he faces a challenging quarter-final with China’s No 4 seed, Shi Yuqi, whom he displaced from the fourth rung of the BWF ladder in the latest rankings. The 21-year-old Chinese player beat Frenchman Brice Leverdez in a canter at 21-15, 21-10 on Thursday.
In one of the biggest shock results of the day, another exciting 21-year-old, Anders Antonsen of Denmark, gave a glimpse of his burgeoning talent by knocking out the 2016 Rio Olympics gold medallist and two-time former world champion, Chen Long of China, at 15-21, 21-16, 21-16, in the day’s longest match lasting 79 minutes.
Chen’s female counterpart, Spaniard Carolina Marin, who had also bagged the 2014 and 2015 world titles and the 2016 Olympic gold medal, was shown the exit door by South Korea’s Lee Jang Mi at 21-18, 21-19, in 52 minutes. The left-handed Spanish ace, who had shown a return to form by winning the Japan Open Superseries, once again finds herself in the wilderness with successive early tournament defeats on the European circuit at the hands of Saina Nehwal and Lee.
Of the two Indian doubles combinations left in the fray after the initial exchanges on Wednesday, the women’s doubles pairing of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy, who had beaten an English duo on the opening day of the French Open, came a cropper against the powerful top-seeded Japanese twosome of Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo, at 21-16, 21-14. The Indians were unable to make any impression on the water-tight defence of the World No 1 pair.
But there was a most encouraging result for the youthful men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who achieved what was arguably the best result of their fledgling career as a unit. The Indians lowered the colours of the World’s No 6 ranked men’s team of Mads Pieler Kolding and Mads-Conrad Pedersen at 22-20, 12-21, 21-19. Despite being swept off their feet in the middle game, Rankireddy and Shetty maintained their cool in the first and third games, to win the points that mattered in the ultimate analysis.
The Indians’ reward was a quarter-final meeting on Friday with the world’s top ranked combination of Denmark’s Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen, who would be looking to shrug off their shock exit at the same last-eight stage of their home tournament last week, and to go all the way in this one.
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Updated Date: Oct 27, 2017 12:27:13 IST