There was no stopping the calm, measured march of the Indian badminton singles triumvirate at the Istora Senayan in Jakarta on Thursday. Kidambi Srikanth, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal all vaulted their Indonesia Masters badminton second-round hurdles with straight-games victories, to claim their quarter-final berths in the $350,000 prize money event.
Sindhu, the No 2 seed, was stretched to the extra points in the first game by Indonesian teenager Gregoria Mariska Tunjung, but then turned on the heat in the second game, to run out a 23-21, 21-7 winner in 37 minutes, and remain on course for her much-anticipated quarter-final date on Friday with reigning world and Olympic champion, Carolina Marin of Spain.
The left-handed Spaniard all but stumbled out of the competition during the course of her second-round tie against 20-year-old South Korean Kim Ga Eun, but just managed to keep her nose in front at the tape for an 18-21, 21-12, 21-18 verdict in six minutes over the hour mark.
Saina took half-a-dozen minutes longer than her compatriot Sindhu while settling the pretensions of another local player, Fitriani Fitriani, to eke out a 21-17, 21-15 triumph; and always looked in control of the match. Both Indians took their career head-to-head win-loss records against their respective rivals to 5-0.
Srikanth’s win was the most impressive among the three Indian singles competitors, considering the fact that he was playing the dangerous Japanese, Kenta Nishimoto, who had knocked out his fellow-countryman, reigning world champion Kento Momota, in the first round of the Malaysia Masters last week.
The eighth-seeded Srikanth dominated the match against the Japanese Thomas Cupper to such an extent that he was able to retire to the dressing-room in half an hour with a convincing 21-14, 21-9 victory, and brood on the prospect of taking on an Indonesian in his last-eight encounter on the morrow.
That playing against an Indonesian in front of his adoring home crowds can be an unnerving experience was amply proved by the manner in which 21-year-old Jonatan Christie, the 2018 Asian Games gold medallist, guided second-seeded Shi Yuqi of China towards the exit door on Thursday. Christie’s 22-20, 21-6 triumph took just 39 minutes, with the second game taking just eleven minutes.
Shi, the winner of the year-ending World Tour Finals title in Guangzhou last month, had no answer to the speed and aggression of Christie, who received robust and raucous crowd support in the jampacked 8,000-seat Senayan arena. Nor could the 22-year-old Chinese player deal with the drift in the stadium which carried all his pushes and clears out at the rival baseline in the second game.
Indeed, a close look at the scores of several first and second round matches revealed one game where there was strictly one-way traffic — all thanks to the draught blowing across the court from one side, and making shuttle control almost impossible. Any late, lofted defensive clear from the net would unfailingly sail out at the opposite baseline, so pronounced was the wind.
On Wednesday, a bewildered Saina Nehwal had taken the full brunt of the drift during her first game against local girl, Dinar Dyah Ayustine, and had been pummeled at 7-21 before she could even get her bearings. Even Tunjung, who must have used the Senayan regularly for practice in the run-up to this tournament, found it tough to control the bird in the second game of her clash on Thursday against Sindhu.
Srikanth will have to keep the drift factor in mind when he takes on Christie in Friday’s quarter-finals. Of course, the 25-year-old Guntur lad being a predominantly aggressive player, he prefers to keep the shuttle down and control the net, in any case. But, if he wins the toss, he should try and take the side with the diabolical drift in the first game, so that, in case the duel goes to a third game, he will have the better side in the second half of that decider.
The career head-to-head statistics of the two players stand at 2-2, with the Indonesian having drawn blood on the most recent occasion that the two met — during the team event of the Badminton Asia Championships last year. Both players have improved since they clashed at the Sudirman Cup mixed team championship in May 2017, but Srikanth in his current mood holds a slight edge in speed and aggression.
Sindhu has her work cut out against Marin, whom she had admittedly beaten during the Hyderabad-Pune encounter in the Premier Badminton League (PBL), earlier this month. But playing the classical 3x21-point format, rather than the masala 3x15-point games in the PBL, requires greater fitness, concentration and temperament; and Sindhu will really have to be on her mettle against the Spaniard on the morrow.
The two have met on 13 earlier occasions, and Marin carries a thin 7-6 lead into Friday’s encounter. The two bumped into each other twice in the course of 2018; and Sindhu’s straight-games win at the Malaysia Open in June was adequately replied to by the Spanish southpaw with a 21-19, 21-10 triumph in the final of the World Championships at Nanjing in August. Marin, it will be remembered, had also ended up triumphant against Sindhu in the 2016 Rio Olympics final, albeit in three games.
Of the three Indian shuttlers in the quarter-finals, Saina has potentially the easiest assignment — against Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong, who shocked the boisterous Jakarta crowd by stunning Japan’s fast-declining No 4 seed, Akane Yamaguchi, at 21-18, 21-12.
The Thai youngster, who turned 21 years of age on Tuesday, coincidentally occupies the 22nd spot in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, compared to Saina’s ninth ranking. The Indian has comprehensively dominated Chochuwong, beating her in straight games on all the three occasions they have met in the past, all in the year 2017, and is strongly favoured to make it 4-0 in their head-to-heads on Friday.
Thursday could well have been a perfect day for Indian badminton, but for the fact that the last surviving doubles pair, Manu Attri and Sumeeth B Reddy, bowed out against the fifth-seeded Danish combination of Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen. Attri and Reddy, the reigning Indian national champions, totally lost focus and breath in the decider of a 49-minute tug-of-war, to lose at 14-21, 21-17, 10-21; and leave their three singles compatriots holding the fort for the country.
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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2019 23:35:29 IST