INDIA OPEN Finals – Beiwen breaks Indian hearts

Zhang Beiwen picked up the biggest title of her career, silencing the New Delhi crowd as she blocked local favourite P. V. Sindhu’s attempt at an India Open title defense. […]

Zhang Beiwen picked up the biggest title of her career, silencing the New Delhi crowd as she blocked local favourite P. V. Sindhu’s attempt at an title defense.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Mikael Ropars / Badmintonphoto (live)

Sunday at the 2018 India Open consisted almost entirely of convincing, if not one-sided badminton finals.  What the matches lacked in suspense, they did make up for in exciting rallies but all afternoon, what the crowd was really counting on was a big finish being provided by defending champion and home favourite Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (pictured right) taking another title for India.

One person present who took exception to this plan was Zhang Beiwen (pictured top).  The 27-year-old shuttler from the United States had already taken care of two-time champion and Saina Nehwal in the quarter-finals, scoring her first ever win over the former world #1.  She came into the final having won her last 21-point system encounter against 2017 World Championship runner-up Sindhu, although the Indian beat her recently in Delhi when the two shuttlers met as representatives of their respective Premier Badminton League teams.

Things started against script, with Zhang pulling ahead late in the opening game before taking it 21-18 but Sindhu responded with a one-sided win in the second.  It all came down to the decider and the Indian crowd got nervous as Zhang moved out to an early 9-4 lead before Sindhu evened things up and it was all tension going into the homestretch.

Late in the deciding game, Zhang and Sindhu traded attacks that found the lines in a series of short, decisive rallies.  Then Zhang exhibited incredible nerve, playing deft net shots even with her tall, powerful opponent looming on the other sit of the tape but her boldness paid off as a short lift and a couple of crucial errors put the American on top.

Lonely at the top

In recent years, there has been an issue with winners insisting on celebrating with their coaches, and leaving their less fortunate opponents stranded at the net, with no reason to celebrate, and waiting for the requisite handshake.  With Zhang famous for being the only top ten player who travels without a coach, one might have expected that at last a world badminton event would finish with an immediate handshake.  However, it was still Zhang waiting at the net for Sindhu to make it over to congratulate her, giving the winner time to shake hands with the service judge first.

The first first

Back in the autumn of 2016, Denmark’s Mathias Christiansen won the first mixed doubles Grand Prix title of his career on a day when later, Zhang Beiwen would also win a title.  At this year’s India Open, Christiansen had as much to celebrate as Zhang as he too won his first title at an event with over $200,000 in prize money.

Christiansen and Christinna Pedersen (pictured) had been in two finals late last year, shortly after coming together as a pair for their home Denmark Open.  Here in their third final, it was not only between the Danes and the even newer pairing of Praveen Jordan / Melati Daeva Oktavianti to see who would win their first ever title as a pair.  It was also between Christiansen and Oktavianti to see who would take a first ever title at the / level.  The Indonesian, also 23, had done one better than Christiansen, having taken a Grand Prix Gold at home title exactly one week before the Dane took that 2016 Grand Prix title in the Netherlands.

The Danes were the ones in control in the India Open final, however.  They managed to keep the shuttle flat enough that they didn’t have to contend as much with Praveen Jordan’s devastating attacks.  Jordan, meanwhile, became somewhat erratic at the crucial parts of both games sending several shuttles well out of court, particularly late in the first game. Christiansen and Pedersen wrapped it up in straight games in the shortest final of the afternoon.

The other Indonesia-Denmark battle gave a second title to the Southeast Asian nation, as world #1s Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo just wouldn’t let challengers Kim Astrup / Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (pictured left) get the better of them.  The Indonesians won in straight games, taking their second Super 500 title in as many weeks.

The afternoon began with the other success for Indonesia.  Thailand Masters winners Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Rawinda Prajongjai were in their second final of the year, as were 3rd-seeded Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu (pictured).  The Thais had never even been in the final of a Superseries or equivalent, while Rahayu had joined with Polii to take the French Open title in October, following that up with runner-up appearances in both the Hong Kong Open and last week at the Indonesia Masters.

Indeed, it was the experienced Polii and her teenaged partner who played their usual solid defense and made the most of the many opportunities to unleash their blistering attacks and the two leaping ladies won it in straight games.

The men’s singles final saw Chou Tien Chen settle for second place for the second straight year.  Last year, he fell to eventual World Champion Viktor Axelsen and this year, it was China’s Shi Yuqi (pictured below) doing the honours.  For Shi, it was the first title in over a year but interestingly, it was only his second career match over Chou, although both players spent most of last year in the world’s top ten.

Shi Yuqi now is set to head to Malaysia, where he is to be the highest-ranked men’s singles player representing China in the Badminton Asia Men’s Team Championships.  This event, which is a qualifier for the Thomas Cup Finals, is responsible for the dearth of top-ranked players at the India Open, although it did not affect many of the mixed specialists, including the India Open runners-up, and Shi’s opponent Chou is also not on the roster for his team in Alor Setar.

The India Open also coincided with the national championships of dozens of European countries, as well as Canada, although Denmark’s nationals start in a few days.  Both Indonesian winners are expected to head east, with Polii and Rahayu expected to spearhead their team for the Badminton Asia Women’s Team Championships, which is likewise a qualifier for the Uber Cup Finals.  The resumes after Europe, Africa, and Pan America have had their own TUC qualifiers and the Swiss Open will be followed by the German Open and the All England.

Final results
WD:  Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu (INA) [3] beat Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Rawinda Prajongjai (THA) [2]  21-18, 21-15
XD:  Mathias Christiansen / Christinna Pedersen (DEN) [5] beat Praveen Jordan / Melati Daeva Oktavianti (INA)  21-14, 21-15
MS:  Shi Yuqi (CHN) [4] beat Chou Tien Chen (TPE) [3]  21-18, 21-14
MD:  Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (INA) [1] beat Kim Astrup / Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (DEN) [4]  21-14, 21-16
WS:  Zhang Beiwen (USA) [5] beat Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (IND) [1]  21-18, 11-21, 22-20

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Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @ badzine.net