Malaysia Superseries Premier: PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal carry India's hopes as usual as bench flops yet again

India has, in recent years, been making waves at the international level in both the women’s and men’s singles badminton categories of the prestigious Super Series and Super Series Premier tournaments.

Players like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth have won Super Series titles in China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia in the face of competition from the world’s best, while their lower-ranked compatriots like Ajay Jayaram, Parupalli Kashyap, HS Prannoy, Sameer Verma, Sourabh Verma and B Sai Praneeth have bagged titles in the lesser Grand Prix Gold competitions.

File photo of PV Sindhu. AFP

File photo of PV Sindhu. AFP

Almost all these players now have sufficient ranking points to make it to the main draws of most Super Series events. However, India’s inadequate bench strength in the singles events and lack of international-standard expertise in the doubles could be seen from the fact that a fairly large Indian contingent that had to compete in the qualifying rounds of the Celcom Axiata Malaysia Open in Sarawak failed to secure even a single berth in the main draws.

In the opening round of the women’s singles qualifiers at the Stadium Perpaduan, PC Thulasi, who had played the third singles for India in their last Uber Cup campaign in 2015, had few problems against Indonesia’s Purwaningtyas Elyzabeth, who appeared to enter the match with a leg injury, since she could barely move around the court. At 1-18 down, she finally appeared to realise that it was futile to continue, and dragged herself to the net to shake hands with her rival as a sign of retirement.

But the joy of moving into the final qualifying round proved short-lived, as Thulasi found another Indonesian, the fourth-seeded Susanto Yulia Yosephin, standing in her way like the proverbial Rock of Gibraltar. The antagonists engaged each other in lengthy rallies, particularly in the second game, but Yosephin proved the steadier and slightly quicker of the two, and ensured her spot in the main draw with a workman-like 21-11, 21-16 victory.

B Sumeeth Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa were put on their mettle in the first game of their opening mixed doubles encounter against Indonesians Afiat Yuris Wirawan and Nadya Melati, but simply ran away with the second game against the inexperienced Indonesians, for a 23-21, 21-5 win in two minutes under the half-hour mark.

But the high-flying Indian duo were rudely brought down to earth in their second and final qualifying match by the English combination of Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith, despite making a promising start, to lose 21-19, 17-21, 17-21 in a gruelling 56-minute duel of wits.

The powerfully built 16-year-old Satwik Sairaj Rankireddy, who had impressed during the Premier Badminton League (PBL) in January this year as a doubles player with a future, had mixed luck on Tuesday, winning one match but losing two. In the mixed doubles, which is his preferred event, K Maneesha and he had to eat humble pie at the hands of the Malaysian combination of Pang Ron Hoo and Yen Wei Peck, losing 19-21, 21-19, 14-21 in a closely contested 49-minute clash.

Later in the day, Satwik Sairaj was required to be on court for one minute less in the first qualifying round of the men’s doubles, in which he and Chirag Shetty downed the Indonesian pairing of Lukhi Apri Nugroho and Tedi Supriadi 21-10, 18-21, 21-13.

The Indians were decidedly the superior pair, and would not have been flattered if they had won this contest in straight games. But they made crucial errors in the closing stages of the second game, to have to stay on court for the decider, the match taking up 48 minutes.

But Chirag and Satwik Sairaj stumbled in their final qualifying match, bowing out to the Chinese Taipei combination of Liao Kuan Hao and Lu Chia Pin, who had been given the third seeding in the qualifers, and were strongly expected to make the cut. The Taiwanese duo won 21-18, 21-16, and progressed into the tournament proper, which is to be played from Wednesday onwards.

Another young Indian pair, Shlok Ramchandran and MR Arjun, who had won the Iran Fajr International title a few weeks ago, was shown the door by Malaysia’s Nur Mohammad Azriyn Ayub and Jagdish Singh, losing 19-21, 15-21.

Three Indian women’s doubles pairs were seen in action on Tuesday; and all of them failed to remain in the tournament. Mahima Aggarwal and K Maneesha did not unduly trouble Malaysians Joyce Choong and Jing Yi Tee, and bowed out on the back of a 13-21, 14-21 defeat.

In the post-noon session, Aparna Balan and rebel Prajakta Sawant did not need to raise a sweat while handing out a 21-8, 21-5 thrashing to Indonesians Rofahadah Supriadi Putri and Ganis Nur Rahmadani. But they were subsequently put in their place by the strong Chinese pair of Bao Yixin and Yu Xiaohan by a 13-21, 17-21 scoreline.

In the opening round of the main draw of the women’s doubles, which was played in the evening session, Ponnappa and left-hander N Sikki Reddy, currently the strongest pair in India following the virtual retirement of Jwala Gutta, were unlucky to have been drawn to play the strongest pair in the world, Japan’s top-seeded Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo.

The Indians, it must be said, fared better than they had been expected to do, and gave the crack Japanese combination a tough time in the opening game before capitulating 19-21, 15-21 after a 34-minute joust.

Wednesday will see all the big guns of world badminton in action. Every player worth his or her salt has entered this competition; and the seedings list, in both the singles and paired events, looks like a veritable Who’s Who of the shuttle sport.

Malaysian Lee Chong Wei, top seeded in his home event on the strength of his runaway lead in the ranking points list, will have to settle the pretensions of the likes of Chen Long, Lin Dan and Tian Houwei (all China), Viktor Axelsen and Jan O Jorgensen (both Denmark), Son Wan Ho (South Korea) and Ng Ka Long Angus (Hong Kong), if he is to win the title for the eighth time in his long and illustrious career.

Similarly, Taiwan’s pride and joy, Tai Tzu Ying, currently in peak form in the wake of her All England triumph, will have to deal with Carolina Marin (Spain), Sung Ji Hyun (South Korea), Sun Yu and He Bingjiao (both China), Sindhu and Nehwal (India), Akane Yamaguchi (Japan) and Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand).

A lip-smacking prospect, indeed, these next five days of top-class badminton!

Updated Date: Apr 06, 2017 01:03 AM

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