Saina Nehwal could hardly have better executed her game plan to beat former world champion Ratchanok Intanon in the $1 million prize money Indonesia Super Series badminton championships, and stretch her head-to-head record against the Thailand star to a comfortable 8-5.
Extending the rallies and keeping the shuttle in play for as long as possible, the Indian ace recovered from the loss of the opening game of her first round clash at the Jakarta Convention Centre, to squeeze the very life out of her rival, and stamp her authority over the eighth-seeded Thai by a 17-21, 21-18, 21-12 scoreline in three minutes under the hour mark.
Saina was followed into the second round of this premier badminton event by her fourth-seeded compatriot, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, who was in total command of her opening game against 20th ranked Pornpawee Chochuwong, but then suffered her by-now-familiar end-game jitters to just about cross the finishing line ahead of the baby-faced Thai teenager, with a 33-minute 21-12, 21-19 scoreline.
Sindhu earned a second-round meeting with Chinese-American Zhang Beiwen, who had little trouble subduing Hanna Ramadini of the host nation 21-15, 21-15. Beiwen has moved up smartly in the rankings in recent months, and is now comfortably ensconced in the 10th spot on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, but trails the rangy Indian 0-2 in career head-to-head meetings.
There was, however, no joy for the untested combination of B Sumeet Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa, who went down without a whimper to Irfan Fadhilah and Weni Anggraini of Indonesia 12-21, 9-21 in a minute shy of the half-hour mark. The two Indians simply did not combine well against the relatively unknown Indonesian pair, which is simply not in the same class as their compatriots Tontowi Ahmad-Lilyana Natsir and Praveen Jordan-Debbie Susanto.
It would appear that the Indians’ entry was sent to the Indonesian organisers at least a month earlier, when Ashwini had not yet partnered Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, since the latter pair enjoyed considerable success in the Sudirman Cup mixed team event in the closing weeks of May, and would logically have been expected to team up for this prestigious, cash-rich event. No doubt we will see the two powerful smashers as a pair in future international competitions.
Tuesday, however, belonged to Saina, who had gone into the match against the in-form Ratchanok as the underdog, not least because the latter had won her hometown tournament, the Thailand Open, only a week back – and that, too, at the expense of her fellow-Thai, Busanan Ongbamrungphan, who had bested Saina in the semi-final.
Acknowledged as one of the hardest and most sincere workers on the circuit, Saina would have realised that there was no way she could win with all-out aggression against the 22-year-old Ratchanok, who held a five-year age advantage over the Indian. Ratchanok, whose face has been looking at you from a vast number of advertising posters in her home city of Bangkok in the four years since she won the world championship, has a rich repertoire of strokes and abundant natural talent, but has consistently lacked staying power.
Nevertheless, it was the Indian who broke out into a useful 8-2 lead, which she maintained until 11-7 as the players went into the mid-game break. Ratchanok, however, found her range after the interval, forced the pace and caught Saina repeatedly with some breathtaking drops and half-smashes. Levelling the game at 14-all, the Thai breezed ahead after 16-all, to wrap up the opening stanza at 21-17.
The effort that Ratchanok had to put into ensuring the capture of the first game told on her in the closing reaches of the tightly contested second game, which witnessed the scores of the two competitors moving virtually in tandem until 16-all. The extra fuel that Saina had in the tank made all the difference, as she switched to attack mode and piled on the pressure, to take the contest into a decider.
The confidence that the 27-year-old Haryanvi (now domiciled in Bangalore) would have derived from her end-game performance in the second game was apparent in the rubber, as she powered to an 11-6 lead at the change of ends. Ratchanok made a supreme effort to stay in the match, and closed to 10-14, but one could clearly see her leg-weariness and the evaporation of power and authority from her strokes.
It was Saina all the way to the tape, as she secured a second-round meeting on Thursday with another Thai, the diminutive Nitchaon Jindapol, who made the grade with an impressive 21-16, 21-14 triumph over South Korea’s Kim Hyo Min, ranked 36th in the world. Saina should not have undue trouble subduing the experienced 26-year-old Thai, currently occupying the 15th spot on the BWF ladder.
Apart from Saina, there was a little-known Chinese teenager who hogged the limelight on Tuesday. Chen Xiaoxin, all of 19, turned the formbook upside down by notching up a 21-12, 10-21, 22-20 victory over the two-time reigning world and Olympic champion, Carolina Marin of Spain. In a no-holds-barred battle of southpaws, the 33rd ranked Chinese youngster spoke up for the tremendous depth in Chinese badminton by matching the noisy Spaniard in court speed, strokes and temperament, to record a memorable victory.
Xiaoxin has a great chance of reaching the quarter-finals in fifth-seeded South Korean Sung Ji Hyun’s section of the draw, for she takes on Malaysia’s Soniia Cheah in her second outing on Thursday. The 23-year-old Soniia, who sits at No 29 on the BWF rankings, accounted for Chinese Taipei’s Chiang Mei Hui by 21-18, 21-11, but on the evidence of Tuesday’s play, appears unlikely to trouble the upcoming Chinese player.
Updated Date: Jun 14, 2017 16:09 PM