Indonesia Masters 2018: PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal set up blockbuster quarter-final clash after easy victories

Shirish Nadkarni
The good news is that there will be an Indian in the women’s singles semi-finals of the Indonesia Masters. The bad news is that the semi-finals cannot accommodate both Saina and Sindhu.

The good news is that there will be an Indian in the women's singles semi-finals of the Indonesia Masters World Tour badminton championships on Saturday. The bad news is that the semi-finals cannot accommodate both Indians, who are currently playing well enough to win the second international competition of 2018.

Second seeded PV Sindhu coasted comfortably into the quarter-finals with a runaway 21-12, 21-9 victory over Malaysian qualifier Goh Jin Wei, taking two minutes over the half-hour mark, to attain her objective. The lanky Hyderabadi will clash at the last-eight stage with unseeded compatriot Saina Nehwal, who was kept on court for five minutes longer by China's 19-year-old Chen Xiaoxin, before making the grade with a convincing 21-12, 21-18 triumph.

There was further joy for Indian badminton fans when the pugnacious young doubles combination of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty barged into the quarter-finals with a commendable 21-17, 21-16 win over Chinese Taipei's Liao Min Chun and Su Ching Heng, in a lively 32-minute duel.

The conquerors of the No 8 seeded Japanese duo of Takuto Inoue and Yuki Kaneko in their opening outing earned a last-eight meeting with the fourth-seeded Danish pair of Mads Pieler Kolding and Mads Conrad Petersen. The giant Danes had little difficulty in putting away Malaysians Chooi Kah Ming and Low Juan Shen by a 21-11, 21-17 scoreline; and are favoured to put the upstart Indians in their place.

Much to the delight of a small Indian contingent of spectators at the Istora Senayan, neither of their female idols was stretched in their respective second round matches. Sindhu and Saina were just vastly superior to their opponents, and hardly ever looked in danger of surrendering their appointed places in the quarter-finals.

Sindhu was totally in command against the 17-year-old Goh, who has worked her way up to the 38th spot in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings. Big leads of 9-4 and 15-9 sufficed to net her the first game against the Malaysian youngster, while in the second, she simply sped away from a 12-8 advantage to bag the game with nine of the next ten points.

Saina, though, was guilty of a lamentable lapse in concentration that could well have cost her the second game. After winning the opening stanza at a canter, the 27-year-old former World No 1 played in a steady, workmanlike manner to build up what seemed a decisive 19-10 lead in the second.

Just when it appeared all over, bar the shouting, Saina conceded a string of seven points €" not due to any positive play by the Chinese teenager, but through some injudicious smashing and untidy netplay €" to permit Chen to come within striking distance at 17-19. Fortunately, the Indian steadied herself just in time to breast the tape ahead of her antagonist, but she would have realised that she cannot repeat this profligacy on the morrow against her fellow-countrywoman.

Saina has a 1-1 head-to-head record against the 22-year-old Sindhu in competition on the world circuit, but leads her Gopichand Academy batchmate 2-1, if one counts the result of the November 2017 Indian Nationals in Nagpur. Sindhu had lost their first meeting at the Indian Grand Prix Gold in 2014, but won their clash at the India Open, in March last year by a 21-16, 22-20 margin.

The older woman went on to exact revenge for that reverse with a tight 21-17, 27-25 scoreline at the Nagpur Nationals, as if to show the badminton world that she was far from done with the game. On current form, and with World No 10 Saina's improved stamina, the result of their clash on Friday becomes a toss-up, in which mental strength and hunger to be seen as the best in the country will play a huge part in the eventual result.

It is significant to record the fact that, unlike in the men's singles at this Indonesia Masters, almost all the fancied players in the women's singles €" barring the No 7 seed, Chen Yufei of China, who was ousted in the opening round by Saina €" have duly made it to the last eight stage.

The women's quarter-finals will witness battles between Taiwan's top-seeded Tai Tzu Ying against South Korea's Sung Ji Hyun (seeded No 5), Carolina Marin of Spain (3) vs He Bingjiao of China (8), Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand (4) vs reigning world champion, Nozomi Okuhara of Japan (6); and the two Indian women, Sindhu (2) and Saina (unseeded), facing each other in the last quadrant of the draw.

The last-eight stage in the men's singles has been reached by only three of the fancied stars, with five of the seeded players falling by the wayside. While second seed Kidambi Srikanth had withdrawn on the eve of the tournament, Thursday's second-round action was witness to the biggest seismic shock of the tournament thus far, with the world champion and No 1 seed, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, being bounced out of the tournament by Japan's giant-killer, Kazumasa Sakai.

The 27-year-old Japanese, who had sidelined India's Sameer Verma in his opening outing at the Senayan Complex, had won the opening game against Axelsen 22-20, and led the top seed 11-7 at the mid-game break in the second, when the Dane opted to throw in the towel for reasons that were not immediately clear.

The world champion's unexpected retirement meant that he actually trails Sakai 2-3 in head-to-head encounters, having lost their three most recent matches to the Japanese player, who currently occupies the 21st berth on the BWF computer. Coincidentally, it had been in Indonesia last year that Sakai, then ranked 43rd, had made his presence felt, coming through the qualifying rounds to barrel into the finals, where he was beaten by Srikanth.

With the exit of the top two seeds, the Indonesia Masters has just three seeds €" China's Chen Long (3), South Korea's Son Wan Ho (4) and Taiwan's Chou Tien Chen (6) left from the list of eight predicted by the seeding committee to reach the quarter-finals.

Two-time world champion and 2016 Olympic gold medallist Chen is now the odds-on favourite to win the title. The tall Chinese ace was merciless in his 21-13, 21-8 demolition of Thailand's Suppanyu Avihingsanon, who had been promoted from the qualifying ranks after the withdrawal of some of the main-draw players.

Chen next takes on the bustling Indonesian, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, who had no difficulty putting firmly in place Thai qualifier Kantaphon Wangcharoen, who had created a big stir on the opening day by showing five-time former world champion Lin Dan the door. Ginting won 21-11, 21-14, a performance that could be ranked only a shade below that of Chen's showing against Avihingsanon.

As for Korean Son, who was extended to the limit by Taiwanese Wang Tzu Wei before winning at 21-17, 11-21, 21-19, he has been set the task of taming resurgent Indonesian veteran Sony Dwi Kuncoro, who, after going through three years of indifferent results, has rediscovered some of the form that had taken him to the World Championship final in 2007.

Though presently ranked a lowly No 94 in the BWF standings, Kuncoro had the firepower to administer a 21-14, 21-10 drubbing to compatriot Tommy Sugiarto, himself a former World Championship bronze medallist. The Indonesian is now looking good enough to take the essentially defensive Son in his stride on Friday, particularly as he leads the Korean 3-1 in career meetings, with victories in their most recent two matches in 2016 and 2017. View More