There was no joy for Pusarla Venkata Sindhu on the day of the Sabbath. Chasing the Hong Kong Open Superseries women’s singles crown for the second year in succession, the willowy Indian fell in almost identical fashion as last year to the wiles of the World No 1 and top seed, Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei, by a 21-18, 21-18 scoreline in three-quarters of an hour.
Almost exactly a year back, the Taiwanese ace had scored a 21-15, 21-17 victory over the Indian in the summit clash of the same competition, and on Sunday, she set about the task of clinically dismantling her rival’s challenge, and bagging her third Hong Kong title in four years, with 2015 being the only year she missed out.
It was also Tai’s seventh major title of the year, behind the crowns won at the All England, Malaysia, Singapore and French Opens, Badminton Asia and the World University Games. It will be remembered that, in what has been a fabulous season for her, she had sensationally chosen to skip the 2017 World Championships in Glasgow in favour of the Universiade, held in her hometown of Taipei on concurrent dates.
As for Sindhu, she failed to add to the India and Korea Open Superseries titles, and the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold crown she had won earlier this year, along with the silver medal at the Glasgow World Championships, when she had suffered heartbreak at the end of a memorable 110-minute final against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, that is remembered as one of the greatest matches in history.
Put in the simplest of terms, the final can be classed as a duel between ballet and breakdance. Light as gossamer, Tai danced gracefully all over the court at the Hong Kong Coliseum, executing strokes of rare beauty, as Sindhu gamely tried to counter the relentless stream of rapier thrusts with obdurate defence, and the occasional burst of power, long legs churning desperately as she dragged her 5’ 10” frame to all corners of the court.
Along with the grace and deception similar to Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, whom the Indian had beaten in the semi-finals, the Taiwanese had the speed to almost always remain in control of the rally. If the final scoreline looked close, it was because Tai was arrogant enough to go for outrageous shots when simpler strokes would have done the trick.
The top seed started brightly, running up leads of 3-0 and 7-2, even before the second-seeded Indian could get into the groove. She went into the breather with an 11-8 advantage, which she improved to 13-8 before Sindhu set about trying to repair the damage. The Indian briefly threatened to take the game as she rallied from 11-5 and 15-18 deficits, to tie the scores at 18-all, even as Tai fell into error. But the Taiwanese steadied in time, to pocket the game.
Sindhu had the bit between her teeth in the initial skirmishes of the second stanza, and actually led briefly at 8-7. Still, it was Tai who went into the lemon break with a two-point advantage at 11-9. From a position of equality at 12-all, Tai stepped on the accelerator and danced her way to a near-impregnable position at 18-12. All that the Indian could do was reduce the margin of defeat, without really causing her antagonist any real discomfort.
Tai’s fourth successive victory over Sindhu propelled her into an 8-3 lead in their 11-match career head-to-heads, though it remains fresh in memory that the Indian had tamed her Taiwanese opponent at the Rio Olympics, 15 months back, on her way to the silver medal. On this showing, the World No 1 remains the odds-on favourite to take the title and the circuit’s biggest purse yet again at the year-ending Superseries grand finals in Dubai in mid-December.
For badminton aficionados, there was a pleasant surprise when the Old Man of the circuit took the men’s singles title, almost at a canter. Malaysia’s 35-year-old Lee Chong Wei, who has had a poor 2017 season, subdued two-time former world champion from China, Chen Long, at 21-14, 21-19, in 47 minutes.
The result gave the Malaysian veteran the slimmest of leads in their long 27-match rivalry, after they had gone into the title clash tied at 13-all. It is, however, significant that Lee has beaten the No 5 seed, Chen, in five of their last six encounters, the sole aberration being an 18-21, 18-21 loss to the Chinese ace in the gold medal encounter of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
That loss had been all the more devastating because the Malaysian had beaten his greatest rival, two-time Olympic gold medalist, Lin Dan, in the semi-final, and felt that he finally had a shot at the yellow metal, after having had to settle for silver in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games, both times at the hands of Super Dan.
Eighth-seeded Lee was in superb form at the Hong Kong Open, knocking out South Korea’s World No 2, Son Wan Ho, and China’s sixth-ranked Shi Yuqi, also in straight games, in the two rounds immediately preceding the final. Fast and fit, the Malaysian has looked much more like the player who continues to hold the world record for the longest continuous period at the top of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings.
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Updated Date: Nov 27, 2017 09:09:37 IST