Hong Kong Open Superseries: PV Sindhu sole Indian survivor as Saina Nehwal, HS Prannoy crash out in 2nd round
Sindhu defeated former Asian junior champion from Japan, Aya Ohori, while Saina and Prannoy lost to China's Chen Yufei and Japan's Kazumasa Sakai in the second round.
Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, who had entered the Hong Kong Superseries badminton championships specifically to protect her World No 2 ranking, remained the sole Indian to enter the quarter-finals of the $400,000 prize money tournament, as compatriots Saina Nehwal and HS Prannoy were shown the door in second-round on Thursday.
Sindhu gave a substantially improved performance over her tepid display in the China Open Superseries Premier last week, to notch a convincing 21-14, 21-17 victory in 39 minutes against former Asian junior champion Aya Ohori, and take her career head-to-head record against the Japanese 21-year-old to 3-0.
Breaking away from five-all in the opening game, the lanky Indian smashed her way to 9-5, and never relinquished her lead. It was almost an identical story in the second stanza, where an initial 5-1 lead sufficed for her to seal the deal.
Basically, it was the confidence of having beaten Ohori twice before that enabled the second seed to book a quarter-final slot against Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, whom she will be meeting for the second time this season. Sindhu suffered a humiliating 14-21, 9-21 loss to the Japanese in the French Open last month, though she still leads their head-to-heads 3-2.
However, Sindhu’s conqueror in the recent Indian National final, Nehwal, frittered away a decent start to steadily lose steam against the speedy and fit No 8 seed, Chen Yufei of China, and ended up on the wrong side of an 18-21, 21-19, 21-10 verdict, in what was the first meeting between the two players.
It being a maiden encounter between Yufei and Nehwal, the spiky-haired Chinese teenager took some time to adjust to the Indian’s wiles. The World No 11 moved with alacrity on the court, dominated the net and kept the rallies as short as she could, to jump into a handy 7-1 lead before Yufei could settle into the match.
Nehwal went into the mid-game interval with an 11-6 advantage, and further extended the lead to 16-10 before Yufei launched a fightback that took her to 17-18, and within sight of the first game. Yet, Nehwal harnessed all her rich experience to survive the Chinese player’s onslaught, and pocketed the first game.
It became amply clear from the start of the second stanza that Nehwal had to finish the match in straight sets, as she was bound to find it difficult to survive the full distance against the fit, young Chinese. To her credit, she made every effort to achieve this objective, but just could not take advantage of a 10-7 lead as Yufei reeled her in slowly but steadily.
The scores inched forward to 12-all, and then 15-all, before Yufei took a big leap to 18-15. A despairing Nehwal threw everything she had into the final few points, but, although she succeeded in reducing the deficit to 19-20, she could not prevent the determined Chinese player from taking the vital 21st point, and restoring parity in the match.
From three-all, Yufei took a huge leap to 8-3, and effectively shut the struggling Nehwal out of the encounter. The Indian’s resistance really broke down at 7-10, from which point the Chinese girl stepped on the gas and took the next ten points in a reel, to build up an overwhelming 20-7 lead. A short lapse of concentration allowed her weary opponent to reduce the margin by three points, but that was as far as Nehwal could go.
HS Prannoy loses to Kazumasa Sakai
Earlier, Prannoy, who occupies the tenth spot in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, crashed to his third consecutive defeat at the hands of Kazumasa Sakai, having earlier lost to the 27-year-old Japanese in the 2013 and 2017 editions of the Indonesia Open Superseries Premier.
But, whereas he had lost by an excruciatingly narrow 17-21, 28-26, 21-18 margin in Jakarta in June this year, the 25-year-old Prannoy was outlasted and outclassed by the Japanese, who was promoted from the qualifying rounds in the Hong Kong Open, and only made the second round of the main draw thanks to a walkover conceded by World No 1 and top seed, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark.
Sakai won a strategic battle 11-21, 21-10, 21-15. Aware of the drift in the hall, the Japanese opted to take the risk of playing the first game from the ‘bad’ side, i.e. the one from which the drift tended to take the shuttle either long or wide. Not surprisingly, Prannoy found shuttle-control easy, and simply ran away with the opening game.
It was one-way traffic in the opposite direction in the second game, with Sakai calling the shots, and the Indian repeatedly over-hitting. The Japanese player, who has clambered up the ranks from 40 to 23 in the course of the past five months, played a tight game against a surprisingly tentative Prannoy in the first half of the decider, and accelerated away from 9-8 to 16-11, and then to the finish line without further ado.
Even as the top half of the men’s singles draw saw only a solitary seed, fifth-ranked Chen Long, come through to the quarter-finals, all four seeds made it to the last-eight stage from the bottom half. However, the two Chinese seeds in the lower half were stretched to the limit by their fellow-countrymen from Hong Kong, which is run as a special territory from mainland China by the Beijing administration.
Five-time former world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Lin Dan, seeded third in this tournament, survived a torrid three-setter against Ng Ka Long Angus, who came roaring back from a 11-16 deficit in the decider to force deuce, but still ended up a 21-17, 18-21, 20-22 loser in 66 action-packed minutes.
Sixth-seeded Shi Yuqi also had to stretch every nerve and sinew to subdue Wong Wing Ki Vincent at 21-19, 16-21, 21-19 in ten minutes more than the Lin-Ng match lasted. The two Chinese players qualified to meet each other at the last-eight stage, while the final quadrant of the draw saw Malaysian veteran Lee Chong Wei pitted against the No 2 seed from South Korea, Son Wan Ho.
The only surprise in the women’s singles, in which seven out of eight seeds made the quarter-finals, was the premature exit of two-time former world champion and Rio Olympics gold medalist, Carolina Marin. The Spaniard threw in the towel when trailing 8-11 in the decider against Canadian Michelle Li, born to Chinese immigrant parents. The final scores of their match read 19-21, 21-13, 11-8 (retired) in favour of Li.
Friday’s quarter-final line-up is as follows (prefix denotes seeding; Q indicates qualifier; PFQ indicates promoted from qualifying):
PFQ-Kazumasa Sakai (Japan) vs Anders Antonsen (Denmark),
Q-Lee Dong Keun (South Korea) vs 5-Chen Long (China),
6-Shi Yuqi (China) vs 3-Lin Dan (China),
8-Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia) vs 2-Son Wan Ho (South Korea).
1-Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) vs 8-Chen Yufei (China),
3-Sung Ji Hyun (South Korea) vs 7-He Bingjiao (China),
6-Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand) vs Michelle Li (Canada),
5-Akane Yamaguchi (Japan) vs 2-Pusarla V Sindhu (India).
Tokyo Olympics 2020: Ex-Indian shuttler Trupti Murgunde expects PV Sindhu to do well; lauds B Sai Praneeth’s skills
Murgunde talks about Sindhu's transformation into a bonafide medal contender, Sai Praneeth's draw and more.
"Indian Badminton has seen great success with two successive medals coming from Olympics and with this latest news of the World Championships is the right stimulant for the game," BAI general secretary Ajay Singhania said.
Gopichand, who had guided Saina Nehwal and Sindhu to a bronze and silver respectively in the last two Olympics, believes Indian badminton players have a good opportunity to better their performance.