SYED MODI Super 300 2018 – Verma wins and gets a ticket to Guangzhou

Sameer Verma’s gold was the only silver lining on a day of heartbreak for Indians as most of the home favourites fell short in Lucknow. By defending his title, Sameer qualifies […]

Sameer Verma’s gold was the only silver lining on a day of heartbreak for Indians as most of the home favourites fell short in Lucknow. By defending his title, Sameer qualifies for the World Tour Finals; Saina Nehwal couldn’t give her coach a pre-wedding gift; Indian doubles teams didn’t live up to the expectations: here’s how it all went down in the 9th edition of the Syed Modi International Badminton Championships.

By Umang Shah.  Photos: Jnanesh Salian / Badmintonphoto (live)

One look around the Babu Banarasi Das stadium and it was impossible not to notice the mood of paying homage in the air, albeit the slightly polluted air in state capital city of Lucknow, India. Das was a former Chief Minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh. The entrance features a portrait tribute to his son, the late Dr Akhilesh Das Gupta, a politician who served as the President of Badminton Association of India. Larger-than-life posters of the home favourite superstar Saina Nehwal and the legendary Lin Dan adorn the backdrop for sponsorship reasons.

The tournament got off to a controversial start akin to the life and times of Syed Modi, the international badminton player it is named after. The withdrawals of the highest ranked Indians in singles – Kidambi Srikanth (calling time on this season a week early) and P. V. Sindhu (citing preparation for the upcoming World Tour Finals) – rocked the headlines. The tumultuous first rounds saw the top seeds crashing out in all of the disciplines where they actually competed – including with some questionable retirements in doubles – as well as the highest remaining seed in men’s singles.

As they say, all’s well that ends well.

Past Guangzu, to Ghangzhou

Sameer Verma went into the tournament knowing that he needed to win the title here to finish in the top 8 (displacing Kenta Nishimoto of Japan) and qualify for the World Tour Finals in Guangzhou. The odds were against him for the final as  his Chinese opponent Lu Guangzu had a 1-0 head-to-head record against the defending champion going into the finals.

Both the players had previously won a Super 300 and 100 title this year: Lu won in Australia and Canada while Verma was victorious at the Swiss and Hyderabad Opens.

Lu controlled the first game with the strength of his smashes. However, Verma managed to maintain his calm in the midst of the struggle. The world #16 from India winning a game and taking the match to a decider seemed like the only silver lining on a disappointing day for the Indian fans. In the end of the deciding game, Lu sent shots long of the baseline in three rallies back-to-back. The clever balance of attacking and defensive shots from Verma was instrumental in taking him over the finish line.

Verma defended his title to become the most successful Indian men’s singles player on the in 2018 and qualify for the World Tour Finals in December. It is a paradox that many Indian media outlets did not even include the low-key and underrated Verma in their previews.

First for Han

After the first 14 minutes of the semi-final, Saina Nehwal gave the Indian fans a scare by falling prey to Ruselli Hartawan’s variation and deception. The next 14 minutes saw a turnaround of sorts with the Commonwealth Games champion, Nehwal’s trademark resilience after being a game down. The decider, though, was just one-way traffic.  The errors crept up for the young Indonesian while the home favourite went on an all-out attack to finish the match.

The Olympic bronze medallist didn’t seem like her usual self from the very beginning in this tournament. There was some trouble with the sideways drift, but the Chinese teenager, Han Yue, took the topsy-turvy first game of Sunday’s final match. Three-time former champion Nehwal was far too erratic in the second game. Her fiancé acting as a coach for the occasion, Parupalli Kashyap supported from the sidelines and tried his best to advise her to focus; Nehwal just shook her head in return. The 4th-seeded Han ran away with the upset as the crowd watched in stunned silence.

Both the players came into this match with two runner-up finishes this year: Denmark and Indonesia for the 9th ranked Nehwal and Macau and Vietnam for Han, who is currently 27th in the world.

The Chinese teenager had a game-plan in mind and executed it to fruition with some sharp shot placements to win her first senior title. Han, last year’s World Junior Championship silver medallist had defeated her compatriot and London 2012 Olympic champion, Li Xuerui, in the semis.

If there is one thing we know about Saina Nehwal, it’s this – every time she is pushed up against the wall, she bounces back and rises like a phoenix.

Experience prevails

In the men’s doubles semi-finals, India’s Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty had defeated the defending champions and veterans from Denmark, Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen, in two close games, both of which went to extra point.  The World #7 Indonesians, Muhammad Rian Ardianto / Fajar Alfian, showed their class and experience in the final as they outsmarted the young Indians and added to their 1-0 head-to-head record.  India’s doubles coach Tan Kim Her looked on as his wards powered through the second mid-game interval with the lead of a solitary point. Kim Her is the one responsible for bringing the two players together into a promising pairing.

In a battle of silver medallists from the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, the spectacular second game had everything from players clashing for a shuttle, a short service, and thrilling rallies to a nail-biting finish. The 2nd-seeded Indonesians pipped the crowd favourites as they won their second title this year after the Malaysia Masters.

However, their performance this season will be a massive confidence booster for the talented Rankireddy and the often under-appreciated Shetty. With their Hyderabad Open Super 100 victory, they are the only doubles title winners from India this season on the BWF Tour.

Silver again

In women’s doubles, it was a rematch of the last year’s semi-final from the Syed Modi Gold. In 2017, Ashwini Ponnappa & N. Sikki Reddy had upset Chow Mei Kuan & Lee Meng Yean in straight games. It was an exact reverse result in this year’s final. The higher-ranked Malaysians outclassed the Indian team to take the head-to-head record to an even 2-2. Chow and Lee were the runners-up in the Russian Open earlier this year while this was the first final this season for Ponnappa and Reddy. The Indians fell short at the last hurdle for a second consecutive time since their loss to Denmark’s Kamilla Rytter Juhl & Christinna Pedersen. The title here is a first for Lee since her comeback from a knee injury and the first major title for the Malaysians as a pair.

Mixed Doubles

In the mixed doubles semi-final round, Ou Xuanyi had avenged his loss against Satwiksairaj Rankireddy as these two doubles players squared off against each other twice in the tournament. Ou & Feng Xueying defeated Rankireddy & Ashwini Ponnappa in a close semi-final match that stretched to three games. Earlier in the men’s doubles quarter-finals, Rankireddy & Chirag Shetty had beaten Ou and Ren Xiangyu.  But unlike the Indian, Ou was able to convert his semi-final success into a title.

Rinov Rivaldy and Pitha Haningtyas Mentari had tasted success this year, winning the 2018 Indonesia Masters Super 100, but Sunday’s final this was their first meeting with the new Chinese combination.  The relatively taller Chinese squandered a couple of game points but eventually edged the Indonesians in an evenly contested opening game. The former World Junior Champions Rivaldy and Mentari, could not match the pace and court coverage of the Chinese pair. The unseeded Ou and Feng stepped up in the second game and rose to the occasion to win their first title together.

The last match win turned a disastrous day for Indian fans into a Sunday of mixed emotions. From three titles last year to only one in 2018, this tournament has not been the most successful for the Indians to say the least. The points from next year’s Syed Modi International will not count towards the Race to Guangzhou rankings as the last two tournaments switch weeks in the 2019 BWF calendar.

We’re down to the business end of the inaugural BWF World Tour as the final Super 300 tournament commences in South Korea next week; before the season-ending World Tour Finals.

Final results
XD:  Ou Xuanyi / Feng Xueying (CHN) beat Rinov Rivaldy / Pitha Haningtyas Mentari (INA) [4]  22-20, 21-10
MD:  Fajar Alfian Muhammad Rian Ardianto (INA) [2] beat Satwiksairaj Rankireddy Chirag Shetty (IND) [8]  21-11, 22-20
WS:  Han Yue (CHN) [4] beat Saina Nehwal (IND) [2]  21-18, 21-8
WD:  Chow Mei Kuan / Lee Meng Yean (MAS) [3] beat Ashwini Ponnappa / Sikki Reddy (IND) [4]  21-15, 21-13
MS:  Sameer Verma (IND) [3] beat Lu Guangzu (CHN) [6]  16-21, 21-19, 21-14

Click here for complete results

Umang Shah

About Umang Shah

Umang is a law student & consultant from Mumbai, India. He is an Olympic sports aficionado & amateur archer. When not watching television or listening to podcasts, he procrastinates about writing on badminton, tennis & archery. You can contact him at @Umang20294 on Twitter.