WORLD TOUR FINALS 2018 – Silver Sindhu turns gold

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu finally won a truly top-tier final, at the World Tour Finals in Guangzhou, as three runners-up got the better of the players who denied them World Championship […]

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu finally won a truly top-tier final, at the in Guangzhou, as three runners-up got the better of the players who denied them World Championship titles.

By Don Hearn. Photos: Badmintonphoto (live from Guangzhou)

Two years ago, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (pictured above) took her first of a string of very impressive silver medal performances.  The Rio Olympic final would be a dream come true for any shuttler but Sindhu followed it up a year later by reaching another final,  at the World Championships.  From then on, they came fast and furious, as in the next 12 months, she racked up runner-up performances in the , the Commonwealth Games, the 2018 Worlds and the Jakarta Asian Games.

Today, though, she refused to settle.  Sindhu’s opponent at the 2018 season finale was Nozomi Okuhara (pictured right), who had beaten the Indian star to become 2017 World Champion.  Things looked worrying at one point for Sindhu, as she let a 14-6 lead slip away in the opening game of the afternoon, but it turned out to be just the beginning of a trend.

Sindhu may have found herself struggling shortly thereafter, at 17-all, but she calmed her nerves and took three straight points and soon enough, she had the first game in the bag.  Similar storm-weathering would be displayed by two more winners.

Next up was mixed doubles and Player of the Year Huang Yaqiong was looking for a 10th major title on the year, seeking to add the World Tour Finals to the World Championship and Asian Games gold.  So too was partner Zheng Siwei, who was also in a bid to become only the 6th player to win 3 straight titles at the season finale.

Their rematch against Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping (pictured left) – whose loss to the world #1 pair  in the World Championship final was just one of 7 to their Sunday opponents in Guangzhou – was a thriller.  The first game was perilously close but the world #2 scraped by with a 23-21 win.

In the second game, the favourites began to stamp their authority and took it by a convincing 21-16 scoreline.  Although the challengers got out to a 16-9 lead in the decider, that is when Zheng and Huang made their move, one that didn’t finish until they had tied it up, again at 17-all.  Fortunately for Wang and Huang, they were able to hold it there, and they took the biggest – and most lucrative – title of their career by closing it out 21-18.

Gold and green for Shi

The men’s singles was another rematch from the World Championship Sunday a few months ago in Nanjing.  And once again, it was the silver medallist turning his fortunes into gold as Shi Yuqi dominated both games against .  Like with Wang and Huang in the previous match, it was the first recorded win for the world #2 over the current world #1.

For every winner on Sunday, this was the biggest ever payday, obviously.  Even though the individual doubles winners pocket barely over half what the singles champions do, only two doubles players in history have ever won more than US$63,000 in one tournament.  For Shi Yuqi, though, the $120,000 winner’s cheque will be far more than he made in prize money all of last year.

Two favourites win

Women’s doubles may have been the one discipline where the semi-final was an upset but it was the first final on Sunday where the higher-ranked player won.  Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan just did not have the ability to control the rallies the way they did on Saturday against the World Champions.  Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi played superb defense and simply refused to make errors and they ran away with the opening game.

In the second game, the match looked to be all but over as the Japanese pair ran out to a commanding 18-12 lead.  But as two others had done before them, the Koreans slowly crept back into it and tied the game at 20-all.

Just when it looked like they had a game point, a challenge by the 2014 Finals champions turned what would have been 21-20 for the Koreans into a match point opportunity, as Hawkeye ruled that the shot the Koreans let fall near their back line had actually clipped the line.  This time, the Koreans did not find a way to offload the pressure and tie the game back up and the title went to the Olympic gold medallists.

The only World Champions on the day to win were Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen.  They looked to be having trouble up until the first game interval as Yuta Watanabe was his usual flamboyant self but Hiroyuki Endo seemed to be favouring his right calf muscle throughout the final and the Chinese pair went on a 10-1 run to snatch the one-game lead.

But it was not all about the injury, of course.  Li and Liu played an amazing match with hard hitting and high intensity and they gave the Guangzhou crowd exactly the kind of finale they were hoping for on the afternoon.  In fact, the Chinese pair gave their fans a welcome glimpse of this talented pair back at or near their best, after they’d suffered a rash of disappointments since their win in Nanjing.

So ends the gruelling 2018 world badminton season.  Four players had to forfeit matches on the week but we will hope to see them back in action in 2019.  Meanwhile, 5 winners announced in Guangzhou that they will be forces to be reckoned with in the new year.  Not them, but 6 players who participated in the inaugural World Tour Finals are entered in the first event of 2019, which kicks off in Thailand in just over 3 weeks.

Final Results
WS:  Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (IND) beat Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) [2]  21-19, 21-17
XD:  Wang Yilyu / Huang Dongping (CHN) beat Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) [1]  23-21, 16-21, 21-18
MS:  Shi Yuqi (CHN) [3/4] beat Kento Momota (JPN) [2]  21-12, 21-11
WD:  Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) [1] beat Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR)  21-12, 22-20
MD:  Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN) vs. Hiroyuki Endo / Yuta Watanabe (JPN)  21-15, 21-11

Click here for complete results

Related Images:

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