Hong Kong Open Superseries: PV Sindhu needs to shrug off fatigue to defend last year’s runner-up points
If PV Sindhu performs well in both the Hong Kong Open and the Dubai finals, there is an outside chance of her ending the year as World No 1.
There is no rest for the wicked, it has been said. Perhaps that saying applies in equal measure to the pure and the blameless, whose mind and body have been hankering for some quiet time, but who are driven by other compulsions, including a reluctance to step off the treadmill.
How, else, does one reconcile to the fact that India’s PV Sindhu has chosen to disregard the physical and mental fatigue she so clearly displayed in the course of her quarter-final loss to Chinese teenager Gao Fangjie in the China Open Superseries Premier badminton championships last week; and will be defending the 7,800 points she got last year for her runner-up position in the Hong Kong Open Superseries?
Perhaps the World No 2 spot she currently occupies in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) pecking order is more dear to the 22-year-old shuttler than the rest she sorely needs to shed the stiffness from the limbs and the staleness from the mind, although she has no chance whatsoever of overtaking the current numero uno player, Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei.
Tai sits atop the rankings with 95,539 points, well ahead of Sindhu’s 82,486. So, even if the Indian were to get the 9,200 points that are awarded for winning the Hong Kong Open, and Tai were to lose in her opening outing at the Hong Kong Coliseum in Hung Hom Bay, Kowloon, Sindhu would improve her tally by 1,400 points to 83,886, which is well short of whatever the Taiwanese would end up with.
On the other hand, if Sindhu were to skip the competition, her tally would stand re-adjusted to 74,686 in the moving annual total, after deducting the 7,800 points for her losing finalist position last year.
In such an event, three players — third-placed Korean, Sung Ji Hyun (currently on 75,805 points), fourth-placed Japanese, Akane Yamaguchi (74,599) and fifth-placed Spaniard Carolina Marin (73,787) — would leap-frog the Indian, even in the highly unlikely event that all three were to lose in the first round, and get 2,220 points just for their participation. Sindhu would straightaway drop to fifth in the standings.
One feels a certain grudging sympathy for the Hyderabadi in her reluctance to relinquish her hard-earned No 2 spot, even though her berth in the year-ending Superseries grand finals in Dubai in mid-December is guaranteed. If she performs well in both the Hong Kong Open and the Dubai finals, there is an outside chance of her ending the year as World No 1, a position that only one other Indian, Saina Nehwal, has attained earlier.
Looking at the second-seeded Sindhu’s chances in Hong Kong, one can see the presence of a major obstacle in the way of her achieving her objective of at least reaching the final, so that there is no reduction in her present points tally — a projected quarter-final clash with Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, who won the China Open just two days ago.
Of course, well before the Yamaguchi clash, Sindhu has to straddle two hurdles, opening her campaign against a qualifier from Hong Kong, Leung Yuet Yee; and then, the winner of the first-round duel between Japan’s Aya Ohori and Russia’s Evgeniya Kosetskaya. The chances of Ohori’s coming through are very strong; and the Japanese player is likely to give the off-form Sindhu a torrid time.
The other Indian in the women’s singles draw, three-time reigning national champion Saina Nehwal, has an even more challenging draw. She first runs into Denmark’s Mette Poulsen; and, if she wins, is expected to cross swords with China’s eighth-seeded Chen Yufei. Their winner is projected to clash with the top-seeded Taiwanese, Tai Tzu Ying, at the quarter-final stage.
In the absence of India’s flag-bearer, Kidambi Srikanth, who has wisely decided to continue resting his knee, the Indian challenge will be spearheaded by recently crowned national champion and world No 10, HS Prannoy, who has a tricky opening round against Hong Kong veteran Hu Yun. At the ripe old age of 36, Hu, ranked as high as world No 4 in 2013, occupies the 21st spot on the BWF computer, and can still be quite a handful.
Should the 25-year-old Prannoy win, he has been saddled with the task of taking on top-seeded Dane, Viktor Axelsen, who should be able to slip it across Japan’s Kazumasa Sakai in his opening outing. Sakai is no rabbit, as he proved when he knocked out Prannoy at the Indonesia Open Superseries Premier in June this year, before being tamed by Srikanth in the final.
Of the other two Indians in the main draw of the men’s singles, B Sai Praneeth has been drawn against the No 2 seed from South Korea, Son Wan Ho, in his lung-opener itself. Their winner is slated to bump into either former two-time Indian national champion Sourabh Verma, who has been promoted from the qualifying rounds into the tournament proper, or former world championship bronze medalist from Indonesia, Tommy Sugiarto, who square off against each other first.
A fourth Indian made the main draw on Tuesday evening. Thirty-one-year-old Parupalli Kashyap, whose chances of competing at all in the Hong Kong Open were under a cloud when he was detained at the airport over a visa issue, won two qualifying rounds on Tuesday — first against Chinese Taipei’s Kan Chao Yu at 21-12, 21-10; and then over Hong Kong’s Lee Cheuk Yiu with a most commendable 21-13, 21-19 triumph.
Kashyap has now barged into a section of the main draw that offers him considerable chances of advancement. In his first round in the tournament proper, he runs into another qualifier, South Korean Lee Dong Keun, who scored an equally impressive 21-18, 21-15 victory in the preliminary rounds over Kenta Nishimoto of Japan. Nishimoto, it will be recalled, had embarked on a giant-killing run in the French Open, and reached the final before succumbing to the power and wiles of Srikanth.
The winner of the Kashyap-Lee encounter advances to a second-round meeting with the winner of the clash between China’s Huang Yuxiang and Thailand’s Khosit Phetpradab, who was promoted from the qualifying rounds to replace Srikanth, who had originally been entered in the tournament, and would have been seeded fourth, but was subsequently withdrawn. Whoever wins these two rounds is projected to clash with China’s fifth-seeded Chen Long, who won the China Open last Sunday.
In the men’s doubles, the only Indian pair in the main draw, Manu Attri and Sumeet B Reddy play a duo from the qualifiers, and then could run into the formidable fourth seeded Chinese combination of Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, who were losing finalists to the top Indonesian pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo at the China Open, two days ago.
There was a good chance of a second Indian pair joining Attri and Reddy in the tournament proper, for Shlok Ramchandran and M R Arjun had won their first round in the qualifying tournament against Hong Kong’s Li Kuen Hon and Yeung Shin Choi. However, the Indians were defeated in their second and final qualifying round against Koreans Seung Jae Seo and Kim Won Ho by a 19-21, 17-21 scoreline, to crash out of the tournament.
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