It is after a considerable lapse of time that India has been able to place four representatives in the quarter-finals of an international badminton tournament with the stature of a Super Series event.
Two men’s singles players, Kidambi Srikanth and B Sai Praneeth, a women’s singles exponent, PV Sindhu, and a mixed doubles combination, Sumeeth Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa, have taken their places in last-eight berths at the $350,000 Singapore Open, and will vie on Friday to reach the semi-finals.
All of them, including Sindhu, the only seeded player of the lot, flirted with danger and potential elimination, before coming through their second round matches. Srikanth, in fact, was forced to save three match-points before taking the final five points of his desperately tight joust against Indonesia’s Ihsan Maulana Mustofa before making the grade with an 18-21, 21-19, 22-20 verdict.
Praneeth was a little less tightly stretched while slipping it across China’s Qiao Bin at 21-15, 21-23, 21-16, while Reddy and Ponnappa staged a fine rearguard action after losing the opening game to tame Koreans Kim Jae Hwan and Lee So Hee by a 17-21, 21-17, 21-16 scoreline.
Sindhu, seeded No 5, made heavy weather of her tussle against Indonesian teenager Fitriani Fitriani, ceding the opening stanza, before ensuring that she booked her quarter-final against world and Olympic champion Carolina Marin for the second time in three tournaments, with a 19-21, 21-17, 21-8 victory.
The tall Olympic silver medallist was in charge of most of the rallies right through the match, even in the first game of the hour-long contest, but committed a series of unforced errors to allow the 27th ranked Indonesian, who only turned 18 on 27 December last year, to pocket the opening game.
Sindhu gave her handful of supporters in the Singapore Badminton Association Hall the jitters by trailing 0-4 at the start of the second game, but recovered to go into the lemon break with a slim 11-9 advantage. Matters looked rosy for the China Open and India Open champion as she stretched the lead to 15-10, but then let Fitriani win some undeserved points, to close the margin to 17-20.
As her fans held their collective breath, she finally got a dribble-and-smash combination right, to bag the vital 21st point for the second game. She then showed her true colours in the decider, comprehensively dominating the proceedings, to power to an 11-4 advantage at the change of ends. Sindhu effortlessly extended the lead to 18-6, before wrapping up the encounter without further ado.
On Friday, the Indian ace will take on Spaniard Marin in what will be their 11th career meeting, with the head-to-head scores locked at 5-all. The psychological advantage ought to be with Sindhu, for she has won their last two clashes in straight games — at the 2016 year-ending Dubai Super Series grand finals, and a fortnight ago, at the India Open.
As for Srikanth, who had attained a career-high Badminton World Federation (BWF) ranking of No 3 in August 2015, but has then slid down the rankings to a current level of No 29 through prolonged spells on the sidelines through injury, the 21-year-old Mustofa, three years his junior in age, proved a tough nut to crack.
The Indonesian, who had touched a career-high rank of 17 on the BWF ladder last August, but has since slid down the snake to a present rank of 39, showed a rare turn of speed and put up a doughty defence against the attacking play of his rival, who continues to appear less than 100% fit after his return from injury.
Mustofa would not have been flattered if he had won the second round match in straight games, or when he stood at match-point 20-17 in the decider. It was Srikanth’s greater experience and the will to go on fighting, added to a slice of good luck on a close line decision, that allowed him to gain the day, and a quarter-final meeting with the formidable Chinese No 5 seed, Shi Yuqi.
The two have never met before, but they do have one statistic in common — both have lowered the colours of Lin Dan, arguably the greatest player in the history of the game. Srikanth had sensationally bested his great Chinese rival in front of the latter’s home crowd at the 2013 China Open, while Yuqi slipped it across Super Dan at the semi-final stage of the All England Super Series, a month back.
The winner between these two players has an excellent chance of going through to the final from the bottom half of the draw, which had a huge hole punched into it by the late withdrawal of the second-seeded Chinese world champion, Chen Long. The Srikanth-Yuqi victor will cross swords with one of two unseeded players, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting of Indonesia and Wong Wing Ki Vincent of Hong Kong, who will battle it out in another quarter-final on Friday.
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Updated Date: Apr 14, 2017 11:31:09 IST