New Zealand Open Badminton: Sameer Verma fails to learn from Lakshya Sen's errors in clash against Lin Dan
Sameer Verma repeated Lakshya Sen's cardinal error of eschewing patience and trying to finish rallies quickly in the quarter-final and played into Lin Dan's hands.
It is disheartening for supporters of Indian badminton to observe that Sameer Verma did not take home any lessons after observing the mistakes made the previous day by his compatriot, Lakshya Sen, against China's legendary Lin Dan at the New Zealand Open Badminton Championships.
On Friday, the 23-year-old former Indian national champion repeated Sen's cardinal error of eschewing patience and trying to finish rallies quickly in the quarter-final and played into the top-seeded Chinese players' hands. Verma lost by a 19-21, 9-21 scoreline in 40 minutes of somewhat scrappy action at the North Shore Events Centre in Auckland.
Lin did not look really uncomfortable at any stage of the match, not even when he trailed the stocky Indian 14-18 in the first game. The fifth-seeded Verma simply did not have any weapon with which he could hurt the five-time former world champion. Neither did he have a killer smash, nor was he able to reach the net so early that he could dribble sharp and put Lin under pressure to produce a deep clear.
Verma could have tried playing a game of attrition against the 34-year-old Chinese ace by keeping the shuttle in play. But he chose to go for the sideline smash to Lin's forehand, even when he was not in the proper position to play the stroke and invariably hit the shuttle out into the tramlines.
That shot was Verma's undoing when he was sitting on a useful four-point lead in the first game with the finishing post in sight. Three out-of-position smashes by the Indian into the sidelines, a foozled net dribble and a crosscourt drop that sailed wide, added to an opportunistic overhead sideline smash by Lin, pulled the top seed up with a six-point reel to 20-18 without having to work hard for any of the points.
Verma was simply not in the match in the second game, but not because the two-time Olympic gold medallist had stepped on the gas pedal, or did anything exceptional. Lin was content to coast along, moving his antagonist to all four corners of the court, and waiting patiently for him to opt for a premature smash. The steady downhill course of the match after that fateful 18-14 situation in the first game showed that the Indian has still to mature as a tactician.
If the Lin-Verma quarter-final encounter failed to rise to the heights, the last-eight duel between India's Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth and Sri Lanka's Niluka Karunaratne was even more tepid and ended in a comprehensive 21-7, 21-9 triumph for the third-seeded Indian in 28 minutes.
Having beaten the Sri Lankan in every one of their previous four encounters, Praneeth was confidence personified on Friday, with smooth, easy movements and an accurate all-court game against which Karunaratne could not find a counter. The Sri Lankan was also a half-step slower on his feet than the Indian and that proved to be an insurmountable handicap in the few long rallies of the 28-minute clash.
The win over Karunaratne sent the third-seeded Praneeth into a semi-final meeting on Saturday with Indonesia's No 2 seed, Jonatan Christie, who made it to the last-four after his compatriot, Tommy Sugiarto, was forced to retire injured midway through the second game, after he had won the first.
Christie, who had lost in three games to the former World No 3 and World Championship bronze medallist in their only previous meeting, fortuitously went through by a 17-21, 14-5 (retired) scoreline. No doubt the 20-year-old, ranked 14th on the Badminton World Federation rankings, would have won the second stanza, and been a favourite to win the decider against his 29-year-old fellow-countryman, who is ranked 29th in the world, but the situation was obviated by Sugiarto's injury.
Christie has lost to the 25-year-old Praneeth on the only occasion that the two have met earlier, but it was a desperately tight, three-game affair in the Thailand Open in June last year, when the Indian, winner of the Singapore Open shortly thereafter, was playing at his best. The young Indonesian's fortunes have improved considerably since then and Praneeth will find it a tough ask to repeat his victory.
In the other semi-final, the top-seeded Lin (only playing in the New Zealand Open to fulfill the BWF condition of the top 15 players participating in a minimum number of World Tour tournaments this year) has been handed the task of taking on South Korean qualifier, Heo Kwang Hee, ranked a lowly 127th in the world.
The 22-year-old giant-killer from Daejeon gave a brilliant exhibition of speed and aggression while taming the No 8 seed from Thailand, Kantaphon Wangcharoen, by a facile 21-7, 21-16 margin in 39 minutes. It was an impressive victory for the Korean over a player ranked 91 places above him. Heo had come through the qualifying tournament to knock out the likes of Indonesian Firman Abdul Kholik and India's resurgent Ajay Jayaram in his first two outings in the main draw.
The women's singles, which were given a wide berth by the world's top 18 players, will see two all-Japanese and all-Chinese semi-final clashes on Saturday. From the top half, 25-year-old top-seed Sayaka Takahashi, ranked 19th by the BWF, will take on fellow-Japanese fourth seed, Minatsu Mitani, ranked 37th in the world, with a 1-0 career head-to-head advantage.
In the bottom half, China's Han Yue, who had shown second-seeded Lee Chia Hsin of Chinese Taipei the exit door in the opening round, will take on her unseeded compatriot, Zhang Yiman, who had administered the knockout punch in the second round to the No 3 seed from Indonesia, Fitriani Fitriani. The 18-year-old Han, one of a large crop of Chinese newcomers, will clash with her 21-year-old compatriot, secure in the knowledge that she has won their only previous meeting in January 2016.
As for India's last remaining challenge in the paired events, Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy, the No 5 seeds, proved no match for Thailand's Bodin Issara and Nipitphon Phuangphuapet, seeded one rung above them, and lost at 10-21, 15-21 in 35 minutes. The reigning Indian national champions were outpaced and out-smashed by the left-right Thai combination and will need to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to score over those ranked above them in the pecking order.