India’s sole survivor at the Thailand Open badminton championships, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, sailed serenely into the penultimate round of the $ 350,000 prize money Level Four World Tour tournament with a comfortable 21-17, 21-13 win over Malaysia’s Soniia Cheah in Friday’s quarter-finals at the Nimibutr (National) Stadium in Pathumna, central Bangkok.
Late withdrawals in the wake of last week’s cash-rich Indonesia Open, and ahead of the Singapore Open next week, have taken plenty of sheen off the competition, which was rendered all the poorer by the absence of hometown favourite and three-times Thailand Open winner, Ratchanok Intanon.
Intanon, who won the world crown in 2013 at the tender age of 18, also remains the youngest-ever world junior champion, having bagged the title at the age of 14 in 2009, and successfully defended it the following year. The Thai ace showed signs of a stiff back during the course of her Indonesia Open 12-21, 12-21 quarter-final loss to Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun. According to coach Patapol Ngernsrisuk, the injury is not serious, but the former World No 1 has been advised by her doctor to take a short break from the game.
Defending champion Intanon’s last-minute withdrawal reduced the quality of opposition in the lower half of the women’s singles draw, which only had one other seed, Nitchaon Jindapol of the host nation. The No 8 seed was a bundle of nerves while being sidelined by Cheah in the first round itself, thus easing the path for Sindhu, who holds a 2-1 career head-to-head advantage over the Malaysian. Not having clashed for the past seven years, after they notched a victory each in 2010-2011, the two on Friday showed that Sindhu had left Cheah far behind.
The second-seeded Indian, who came up well short in her Indonesia Open quarter-final against Chinese left-hander He Bingjiao, has not faced any of the other top-ten women thus far in Bangkok, and has not been in any sort of trouble.
In the first game of her lung opener against Bulgaria's Linda Zetchiri, Sindhu was in full flow, until she gradually eased her foot off the pedal, to record a routine 21-8, 21-15 triumph. Nor was she troubled by Hong Kong’s Yip Pui Yin, against whom she held a 3-0 win-loss advantage, going into the match, and promptly made it 4-0 with a facile 21-16, 21-14 win.
Sindhu’s demolition of Cheah’s challenge sets her up for a Saturday meeting with Gregoria Mariska Tunjung of Indonesia, ranked a modest No 29. Teenager Tunjung is the new face of Indonesian women’s badminton, dominated in the closing decades of the last century by illustrious players like Olympic champion Susi Susanti, the Verawaty Wiharjo and Ivana Lie Ing Hoa.
Tunjung scored an impressive 21-17, 21-8 quarter-final victory over Canada’s World No 13, Michelle Li. She narrowly missed being seeded and had made the last-eight grade with a notable victory over Thai hope, Busanan Ongbumrungpan. The 18-year-old Indonesian, however, trails Sindhu 0-2 in career meetings, with her most recent loss coming at the Syed Modi International in January last year.
Sindhu, who turned 23 years of age last week in Jakarta, is odds-on favourite to make the title round where she could meet either seventh-seeded American, Zhang Beiwen, or fourth-ranked Nozomi Okuhara, the reigning world champion from Japan, who will cross swords in the other semi-final.
Zhang turned the form-book upside-down with her efficient, no-nonsense game finding an inadequate response from top-seeded World No 2, Akane Yamaguchi of Japan, by a 14-21, 21-19, 21-19 scoreline on Friday. Okuhara was also dragged over the distance by her Uber Cup team-mate, Aya Ohori, before she could get her nose in front for a hard-earned 21-12, 15-21, 21-19 triumph. The 23-year-old Japanese is strongly favoured to score over Zhang, whom she leads 3-0 in career head-to-heads.
As for the men’s singles draw, there was carnage even before the competition got under way, which continued even after the players hit the courts. The last-minute withdrawal of the top three seeds left India’s H S Prannoy, at No 4, as the topmost surviving seed. He stumbled through his opening round match against Spaniard Pablo Abian by a 21-16, 21-19 margin, but then came a cropper at 14-21, 18-21 against resurgent veteran, Sony Dwi Kuncoro of Indonesia, a World championship runner-up to China’s Lin Dan in 2007.
Currently making his way up the ladder from the 80th spot in the rankings is the wily Kuncoro, who came through the qualifying rounds at the Thailand Open, and will take on one of Japan’s three Thomas Cup singles ‘K’s, Kanta Tsuneyama (the others being Kento Momota and Kenta Nishimoto), for a place in the finals. The two have never encountered each other before, and the badminton aficionado could do worse than to put his shirt on Kuncoro, like Lin Dan a 34-year-old vintage wine.
The other semi-final, which is also totally bereft of seeded stars, will feature Indonesia’s former World championship bronze medallist, Tommy Sugiarto, taking on the host nation’s Suppanyu Avihingsanon. Sugiarto outlasted Thai Kantaphon Wangcharoen by a 21-11, 11-21, 21-13 scoreline, while Avihingsanon administered the knockout punch to fifth-seeded Japanese, Kenta Nishimoto, at 21-19, 21-16.
Had these two quarter-final results been reversed, we would have had one semi-final between Kenta and Kantaphon, and the other between Kanta and Kuncoro, with the missing Kento, in all probability, watching the action on the TV in Tokyo! How the Japanese men’s team coach manages his three key wards is a question that, as Bertie Wooster would have remarked to the ever-reliable Jeeves, boggles the mind!
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Updated Date: Jul 14, 2018 10:08:55 IST