Korea Open Superseries: Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty come of age with victory over top-ten pair

Thursday, the third day of the Korea Open Superseries badminton championships provided mixed results for Indian supporters with PV Sindhu and Sameer Verma making it to the singles quarter-finals after authoritative victories, even as B Sai Praneeth and Parupalli Kashyap fell by the wayside through narrow defeats at the hands of more fancied opponents.

Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal had chosen to skip the $600,000 prize money event.

Of course, the biggest upset of the competition was the 23-21, 14-21, 21-18 eclipse of top-seed Tai Tzu Ying from Chinese Taipei by the redoubtable Japanese fighter Minatsu Mitani. The world No.1 Taiwanese star, who had given the recent World Championships in Glasgow a miss in favour of competing at the World University Games in her home town, could not replicate the rampaging form that had seen her win six Superseries titles at the start of this year, and go 30 matches without a defeat.

File image of doubles pair Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy. AFP

File image of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy. AFP

The 22-year-old Tai was pipped at the post by a player ranked 18 places below her on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) computer, but who possesses genuine badminton pedigree. The 26-year-old Mitani was a bronze medalist along with Sindhu at the 2014 World Championships in Copenhagen, and had also conquered Nehwal at the 2016 Syed Modi International in Lucknow.

There was a noteworthy result for the much-maligned Indian doubles teams, with 17-year-old Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and 20-year-old Chirag Shetty combining to produce a breakthrough victory over a top-ten pair for the first time in their fledgling careers.

The Indians’ victims on Thursday were the seventh-seeded Chinese Taipei combination of Lee Jhe-Huei and Lee Yang, ranked ninth in the world, by a 23-21, 16-21, 21-8 scoreline. The youthful Indians were full value for their success in a 51-minute match, literally blitzing through the decider after slipping a notch in the second game at Seoul’s SK Handball Stadium.

The pair proved to be the second Taiwanese feast for the Indians in as many days, with Rankireddy and Shetty having shown Lee Sheng Mu and Lin Chia Yu the exit door on Wednesday with a convincing 21-9, 22-24, 21-12 triumph. The Indians, who were promoted from the qualifying rounds, have earned a quarter-final meeting with the third-seeded Japanese pair of Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda on Friday; and look good to create another upset.

Sameer, the younger of the two Verma brothers who train at the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad, continued his impressive form with a well-crafted 21-19, 21-13 win over Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki Vincent in a 42-minute encounter. He had shocked the eighth-seeded Thai left-hander Tanongsak Saensomboonsak on Wednesday, outlasting the temperamental Bangkok native in the decider of their 54-minute tug-of-war.

This was only the second encounter between the two, with the 27-year-old Hong Kong player winning their first one easily in 2011, when the Indian was all but 16. Sameer, who occupies the 25th spot on the BWF rankings, made a nervous start, and conceded a 7-3 lead, but settled into a good rhythm and caught up at 12-all. After some tight exchanges until 16-all, the Indian broke away to take the opening stanza narrowly, and powered ahead after 10-all in the second game to win it with a degree of comfort.

The win over Vincent Wong earned Sameer a quarter-final meeting on Friday with top-seeded South Korean Son Wan Ho. The 29-year-old World No 1, playing in front of his adoring home crowd, made heavy weather of his second round outing with wily veteran Kashyap, and needed 77 minutes before he could subdue the gallant Indian, two years his senior in age, at 21-16, 17-21, 21-16.

Son had gone into the match with a 6-2 winning record in career outings against Kashyap, and would have been bolstered by the knowledge that he had won their three most recent encounters played over the last two years. But, after a confident start, the local favourite was disconcerted by Kashyap’s hustling tactics in the second game, in which the Indian led from start to finish, to take the match to a decider.

PV Sindhu’s height, reach and power on both flanks proved to be hard to counter for Nitchaon Jindapol. AFP

PV Sindhu’s height, reach and power on both flanks proved to be hard to counter for Nitchaon Jindapol. AFP

It was hard to predict a winner, as the antagonists were locked at 14-all in the final game. Son’s superior fitness eventually weighed in the balance as Kashyap, who has spent a lot of time on the sidelines through injury over the past couple of years, was just that half-step slow in getting to the Korean’s dribbles at the net, and was forced to play the defensive clear giving Son the advantage in the rally.

Sai Praneeth, who had distinguished himself earlier in the year by winning his first Superseries title in Singapore, and then gone on to win the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold in Bangkok, was desperately unlucky to be vanquished in straight sets by seventh seeded Wang Tzu Wei of Chinese Taipei, ranked 12th in the world, by a 13-21, 24-26 margin.

After an untidy opening game, in which he committed far too many unforced errors, especially in the closing stages of the game, Praneeth was seen at his best when he had his back to the wall at 16-19 in the second. Cashing in on some nervous play by the Taiwanese, the Indian powered ahead to 20-19, and had another game-point at 23-22. Sadly, he could not convert either opportunity, and ended up with his second loss to the 22 year old Taipei native in as many career meetings.

As for the women’s singles, in which all the fancied players, except for top-seeded Tai, progressed smoothly. India’s sole hope, Sindhu, did just about enough to make the last-eight grade. The lanky Indian, seeded No 5 in this tournament which had seen the last-minute withdrawal of two-time former world champion Spain's Carolina Marin, was tested all the way by Thailand’s Nitchaon Jindapol, ranked 16th, but won at 22-20, 21-17 in 42 minutes of somewhat scrappy action.

Jindapol, who had shocked Nehwal and Tai in successive rounds at the Indonesia Open Super Series Premier two months back, could have been considered a dark horse in this tournament, but found Sindhu’s height, reach and power on both flanks hard to counter.

The Thai did not have any weapon to seriously hurt Sindhu, but kept the rallies going, and her own mistakes down. The Indian would have won far more easily if she had kept her concentration after taking a 20-16 lead in the first game and an 18-15 lead in the second. Still, she got the job done in the end, and progressed to a quarter-final meeting with Mitani.

The 19th ranked Japanese actually carries a 2-1 head-to-head advantage into the match against Sindhu, and following her shock win over Tai on Thursday, will fancy her chances against the Indian. However, the in-form Sindhu, who was tragically denied the world crown by Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in an all-time great final in Glasgow, a fortnight back, will be out to prove that she belongs in badminton’s current elite, and that she will not be denied by such a low-ranked player. It promises to be an absorbing battle, with plenty at stake for both gladiators.

Updated Date: Sep 14, 2017 22:47 PM

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