WORLDS Finals – Sindhu champion on a day of threes!

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu became the first Indian ever to win a World Championship title, playing in her 3rd consecutive final, while 3 winners repeated and the last won a 3rd […]

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu became the first Indian ever to win a World Championship title, playing in her 3rd consecutive final, while 3 winners repeated and the last won a 3rd title!

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (pictured top) had been waiting for this moment.  Three years ago, she made history by becoming the first Indian player to contest an Olympic badminton final but the major titles remained elusive even as her fame swelled.

Although Sindhu won her first Superseries title shortly after that momentous Olympic final, she soon began to rack up an enviable collection of results that she had every right to be proud of but which still gained her a reputation of being a serial runner-up.  In 2017, she won her first two finals of the year, both at home, but almost exactly a year after winning silver in Rio, she lost narrowly to Nozomi Okuhara (pictured right) in an incredible World Championship women’s singles final.

Although Sindhu bounced back from that defeat in Glasgow to beat Okuhara in another gripping final a few weeks later at the Korea Open, her next two Sunday appearances were again runner-up finishes at the last two events of the year, culminating with the Superseries Finals in Dubai.  In 2018, by the time Tai Tzu Ying had relegated Sindhu to silver at the Asian Games, the Indian had been runner-up 5 times that year, including also the Commonwealth Games, two Super 500 events, and her second straight World Championship silver.

Meanwhile, Sindhu’s other form of success was highlighted by her only title of last year.  She did manage to take the title at the World Tour Finals in Guangzhou, where she took home the biggest badminton winner’s cheque in history.  This was fitting, given the press she had got earlier that year for being in the top ten in Forbes magazine’s list of the top earners in female sport.  If the Forbes numbers – which grossly overstated Sindhu’s prize winnings – can be believed, the Indian shuttler received more in sponsorship money than the #1 women’s singles tennis player earned in both endorsements and the famously lucrative tennis prize winnings.

Success on the 3rd try

Fast forward to August 2019 and Sindhu came to Basel having had a respectable year but with only one finals appearance, last month at the Indonesia Open Super 1000.  Still, she had won convincingly in Jakarta over All England champion Chen Yufei (pictured above, on the far right) and over Okuhara, who had in turn beaten the Indian badly at the Singapore Open in the spring.

On Sunday, she came in with the momentum of having trounced Chen in the semi-final and edged past Asian Games gold medallist Tai a day earlier.  Anticipation was high for another amazing final, like the one in 2017, but those expectations were dashed along with any hopes Okuhara might have had for besting Sindhu in another final.

Sindhu played with confidence, power, and precision and never once seemed troubled by her world #2 opponent.  Nozomi Okuhara ran well to cover the court but Sindhu just kept pushing her to all four corners and her smashes were devastating.  The Indian made very few mistakes and anticipated every weak reply from Okuhara and quickly sealed her victory in two games that each ended 21-7.

After the match, Sindhu thanked the crowd and her coaches and asked the MC to return the microphone to her so that she could wish her mother a happy birthday.

A 3rd title

In the last match of the day, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan (pictured left) were also playing in a World Championship final together for their 3rd time.  In fact, there was also a birthday involved for them, but it wasn’t a case of a win needing to be dedicated, as it was Setiawan himself who turned 35 on Sunday.

For the Indonesians, though, they were not looking for the traditional 3rd time lucky, as Sindhu was.  Rather, they were hoping to be lucky a third time, as they had won the World title already in both 2013 and 2015.  It also just happened to be the 4th title for both players, as Setiawan had won back in 2007 with Markis Kido and Ahsan had been runner-up in 2017 in a short-lived partnership with Rian Agung Saputro.

The Indonesians barely sqeaked by in the first game, saving two game points before prevailing 25-23.  The second was a blowout for Japan’s Takuro Hoki / Yugo Kobayashi (pictured right), as they showed more of the form that had seen them upset both of last year’s finalists in this year’s quarter-final and semi-final rounds.

Experience really showed in the deciding game, as Ahsan and Setiawan calmly kept control of the rallies until they forced the end change at 11-7.  They weathered repeated rallies by the pumped up Japanese pair to close the gap but they never got closer than a 2-point margin.

The underdogs started to take more risks as their hopes dwindled but the veteran Indonesians never wavered and they pulled away until they had earned themselves six match points.  It took them two to convert and they were celebrating their 3rd title, one short of the record of 4 men’s doubles world titles by a single pair, held by Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng.

3 seconds

The remaining 3 finals were repeat victories by last year’s World Champions.  The first of these came in by far the tightest match of the day between both of last year’s women’s doubles finalists.

Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara (pictured above), whose win last year as the 11th seeds was a major upset at the time, have been ranked world #1 for most of the past few months now.  They came out playing just like the favourites and romped to a 21-11 victory in the opening game.

In the second, their compatriots Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota held the clear advantage and earned themselves four game points but the top seeds erased all four and the world #2 had to play the pressure points and win it 22-20.  It was almost the reverse in the decider, as Matsumoto/Nagahara rolled out to a 20-15 lead, only to have their opponents save all 5 match points and earn one of their own.

The defending champions held their nerve, though, and took the last 3 points in succession to secure the repeat title.

The other two defending champions, Kento Momota and Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong, seemed to be competing to outdo Sindhu in winning a decisive final.  Kento Momota (pictured above) allowed even fewer points than his predecessor had, holding Anders Antonsen to just 12 points in two games as the world #1 glided easily all over the court and played a flawless match, while Antonsen’s shots became increasingly erratic as the match wound down.

Zheng Siwei (pictured left) and Huang Yaqiong also put on a master-class of mixed doubles.  Their win was the shortest contest of the day as they never let Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai put them under any pressure and wrapped up the win in just 35 minutes.

Final results
WD:  Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara (JPN) [1] beat Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (JPN) [2]  21-11, 20-22, 23-21
WS:  Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (IND) [5] beat Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) [3]  21-7, 21-7
MS:  Kento Momota (JPN) [1] beat Anders Antonsen (DEN) [5]  21-9, 21-3
XD:  Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) [1] beat Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA) [4]  21-8, 21-12
MD:  Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan [4] beat Takuro Hoki / Yugo Kobayashi (JPN) [12]  25-23, 9-21, 21-15

Click here for complete results

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