INDIA OPEN 2018 SF – Sindhu title defense last home hope

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu blocked Ratchanok Intanon to keep alive her hopes of a title defense, once again the only hope for a home title. By Jong.  Photos: Mikael Ropars / […]

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu blocked Ratchanok Intanon to keep alive her hopes of a title defense, once again the only hope for a home title.

By Jong.  Photos: Mikael Ropars / Badmintonphoto (live)

January 2018 has not been quiet like the past few years of the world badminton tour.  Whereas the was given a two-month break in the last 3 years of its existence, the new tournament structure of Badminton World Federation (BWF) brought in four tournaments in a row with 3 of the new ‘’ following the first new ‘Super 300’.  The is the last of these back-to-back tournaments before all of the continental championships commence in February.

The hectic schedule in January – and coming up early this month – made this year’s India Open less competitive compared to the past few years.  Although the status maintained a level equivalent to its former Superseries status, this year’s edition attracted only a few top 10 players in each of the five categories.  Two out of five defending champions are back to defend their title again, while the others have withdrawn or chosen not to participate.

All hopes on her now

For the second straight year, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (pictured top) will be the only player from her home country to feature in Sunday’s finals at the India Open.  The Indian opened her semi-final match fiercely, rebounding from an early 1-3 deficit to take a commanding 13-3 lead in the first game and put the pressure on Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon.

The defending champion went on to take the first game comfortably against the Thai, who is also a former winner at this event, having held the title for a second time before Sindhu won last year.  The second game saw no changes as the Indian led all the way until the end of match with her power smashes.

Sindhu thus becomes the last hurdle for Zhang Beiwen (pictured above) of the United States.  Zhang is already responsible for disappointing many Indian fans, having eliminated Indian badminton star Saina Nehwal in the quarter-final.  On Saturday, she continued to beat the in-form Cheung Ngan Yi of Hong Kong’s in the semi-final.  Cheung was coming off a big win over Olympic gold medallist Carolina Marin but succombed 19-21 in her deciding game against Zhang, only after saving 3 match points.

Southeast Asian women’s doubles on the rise

Semi-finals day at the 2018 India Open started and ended with defeats for champion from the Malaysia Masters.  While Intanon fell in the finale, the opener was an unlucky one for Kamilla Rytter Juhl / Christinna Pedersen, who had taken the women’s doubles crown in Kuala Lumpur.

The Denmark pair’s trademark acute and cross angle attacks could not penetrate the defence by Indonesians Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu (pictured right) in the first game.  Impatience and a few unforced errors caused the Danes to go down in the opener but a change of strategy and increased pace in the second gamed brought the match to a decider.

The third game featured several exchanges of the lead but the Indonesians prevailed and entered their third consecutive final of the last three tournaments that they have participated in.  They will be up against the Thailand Masters champions Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Rawinda Prajongjai (pictured above).  It will be the biggest event to have an all Southeast Asian women’s doubles final since the inaugural Superseries Finals back in December 2008.

The second chance or the first one?

Last year’s beaten finalist in men’s singles, Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei, saved 2 game points and snatched the first game from China’s Qiao Bin.  The second game was physically demanding.  Both players were looking extremely exhausted in the latter half of second game but it was Chou who overcame the fatigue and secured a chance to take the title after failing to do so last year.

Chou will be up against China’s Shi Yuqi for the final match.  Despite trailing in the deciding game against Malaysia’s Iskandar Zulkarnain (pictured), Shi showed his calmness at critical points and won the match with only 2 points ahead of Iskandar.  No Chinese men’s singles player has won the India Open title yet and Shi Yuqi could claim that distinction by being the first one on Sunday.

Still unbeatable

Indonesia will send a representative to the men’s doubles final for the 4th straight weekend, marking a lock on the event in the so far this year.  The world number one, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, are hot favourites to defend their India Open title for second consecutive time.  They beat the reunited two-time World Champions Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (pictured).  Being the underdog this time, the experienced Ahsan/Setiawan could not stop the unbeatable record of Gideon/Sukamuljo since last year’s China Open.

The Indonesians’ opponents in the final will be the 4th-seeded Kim Astrup / Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (pictured bottom).  The Danes took a close first game 21-19 from former World Junior Champions Han Chengkai / Zhou Haodong.  However, the Chinese could not handle the pressure from the more experienced players.  The Danes closed the second game with 21-14 and it is the Europeans who are now looking forward to stopping the winning streak of Gideon/Sukamuljo.

First title due for one new partnership

Christinna Pedersen’s luck came on her latter appearance of the evening when she and her new partner Mathias Christiansen crushed the last home pair of Pranaav Jerry Chopra / Sikki Reddy in the mixed doubles.  The Danes did better in covering the mid-court, which forced the Indians to keep lifting the shuttle in both games.  The Danes won by stable attack of Christiansen and the sharp net play by Pedersen.

The Europeans’ opponents in the final will be the even newer pair of Praveen Jordan / Melati Daeva Oktavianti (pictured) of Indonesia.  The Indonesians won the semi-final by many  flat exchange rallies against China’s young pair of He Jiting / Du Yue.  The Chinese could not hold on to their nerves and went down 19-21, 22-24 to the Indonesians.

Both pairs are thus looking for their first title on Sunday.  Jordan and Oktavianti are already one step ahead of where they finished last week in Jakarta, while the Danes are in their third major final, after the China and Hong Kong Opens late last year, and are keen to top the podium on their third try.

Finals line-up
WD:  Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Rawinda Prajongjai (THA) [2] vs. Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu (INA) [3]
XD:  Mathias Christiansen / Christinna Pedersen (DEN) [5] vs. Praveen Jordan / Melati Daeva Oktavianti (INA)
MS:  Chou Tien Chen (TPE) [3] vs. Shi Yuqi (CHN) [4]
MD:  Marcus Fernaldi Gideon Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (INA) [1] vs. Kim Astrup / Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (DEN) [4]
WS:  Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (IND) [1] vs. Zhang Beiwen (USA) [5]

Click here for complete semi-final results

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