Syed Modi International 2018: How Sameer Verma overcame Lu Guangzu to clinch title, qualify for World Tour finals

Lucknow: Sameer Verma’s confidence was in tatters. The determination he had on his face at the beginning of the final had started to wear off as the twinkle-toed Lu Guangzu watched the shuttle sail over the backline for the fourth time in the first game. The Indian shuttler was struggling with his accuracy.

Sameer looked disgruntled. Surprisingly, his strokes had the power, yet it wasn’t enough to penetrate the steely resolve of Lu. Out of options, he would try prolonging rallies, which in return, gave his opponent the luxury of hitting down-the-line smashes.

Sameer Verma clinched Syed Modi International 2018 title with a hard-fought win over China's Lu Guangzu in the final. PTI

Sameer Verma clinched Syed Modi International 2018 title with a hard-fought win over China's Lu Guangzu in the final. PTI

By the time Sameer would recollect his thoughts, Lu had deservedly taken the first game 21-16. By now, Sameer had feared the worst – not defending the title and missing out on making his first appearance at the World Tour Finals. The 24-year-old needed to win gold in Lucknow to pip Kenta Nishimoto in the top-eight of the World Tour Rankings.

“I was under massive pressure. I just knew that I had to fight for every point and snatch the momentum from him,” Sameer, who won the Swiss Open 2018, told Firstpost.

Sameer is one of the rare breeds of shuttlers like Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, Kidambi Srikanth and Lee Chong Wei who take control of the forecourt while attacking and dive left, right and center to defend a barrage of half-smashes coming from the other end. That was pretty much how Sameer handled the Chinese wall in the second stanza.

“Lu was picking up my shots from every corner possible and covering the net in a jiffy in the first game. All I did in that moment was keep him at the backcourt and surprise him with crosscourt drop shots. I had to be judicious in my shot selection because he had done his homework,” said the Dhar-born shuttler.

The Indian got his way back into the match, but he nearly squandered a four-point lead at 20-16 before managing to find an acute angle to hit a winner and enforce a decider. “Again, he retrieved and shielded the net from the mid-court just the way I would have done it,” Sameer said.

Whatever Sameer had in mind, Lu had already implemented that very move on the court in both the games. So now, all Sameer had to do was bring a change to his approach, which he did it in style in the decider.

The crosscourt shots and the deft touches at the net paved the way for Sameer to keep Lu exactly where he wanted. The Indian had finally found the weapons to attack the impenetrable shield. And Lu was all over the place at the mid-game break at 12-18 after succumbing to Sameer’s well-executed strategy.

The determination was back. The worried look on his face was replaced by a huge sigh of relief. Lu, whose defence was left exposed after the mid-game interval, hurried at the net and Sameer had successfully defended his title in Lucknow, earning him the much-needed points to qualify for next month’s Guangzhou event.

A calm and composed Sameer rushed to the gymnasium next to the court for a cool down session before greeting the fans. “First of all, I feel relieved after qualifying for Guangzhou. It’s time to take care of my body and put everything on line to win in Guangzhou,” a jubilant Sameer said admitting that Lucknow has always been special to him.

Sameer, who won titles at the Swiss, Hyderabad and Syed Modi tournaments, is the only shinning star in an otherwise bleak men’s singles season. Srikanth, HS Prannoy and B Sai Praneeth falied miserably in repeating the success they achieved last year. In fact, they hardly ruffled a few feathers.

“I had planned the tournaments smartly before the start of the year. I knew that even if I beat top-ranked players or do well in Super 300 or 500 tournaments, it would help me regain my form,” the Hyderabad Open winner said.

For the 24-year-old, it was more about Guangzhou’s challenges than Lucknow’s success. “I had not expected to reach the World Tour Finals at all. It happened right at the end. For me, this is special,” Sameer concluded.

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Updated Date: Nov 26, 2018 19:35:22 IST

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