Comeback queen Saina Nehwal revealed clear signs of the unquenchable fighting spirit of her earlier days as she notched up a gritty 22-24, 21-15, 21-14 triumph over China's seventh seeded Chen Yufei in a marathon 69-minute opening outing of the Indonesia Masters badminton championships at Jakarta's Istora Senayan on Wednesday.
Showing no signs of the ankle injury that had troubled her in recent weeks, and which had induced her to skip the Malaysia Masters last week, the 27-year-old Hyderabad-based Haryanvi put behind her the pain of losing the opening game after holding a 20-18 lead, to stamp her class on the residual portion of the match, and level their head-to-head record at 1-1.
Saina had been beaten by the 19-year-old Chinese in their previous clash in the Hong Kong Open in November 2017, losing her breath towards the end of the second game, and being thrashed 10-21 in the decider. In Jakarta, the Indian showed far greater fitness and was able to last the distance comfortably, flooring the accelerator after 10-all in the second game, and 12-all in the rubber set, to beat her teenaged rival with a degree of comfort.
>Easy for Sindhu
Even more at ease against local shuttler Hanna Ramadini was Saina's compatriot and second seed, PV Sindhu, who was kept on court at the newly-refurbished Senayan Stadium for four minutes over the half-hour mark, while registering a facile 21-13, 21-10 win, to take her career record against the 22-year-old Indonesian to 3-0.
With her large wingspan and substantial power on both flanks, Sindhu was in control throughout the match. She led from start to finish in the opening game, claiming huge 10-3 and 17-8 leads before committing a few unforced errors to allow Ramadini to reduce the margin.
The Indian only trailed the local girl 1-2 at the beginning of the second stanza, before powering to a 13-4 lead, and coasting easily to victory.
In the pre-quarter-finals on Thursday, the lanky Hyderabadi will take on 17-year-old Malaysian qualifier Goh Jin Wei, who sidelined another qualifier, Gregoria Mariska Tunjung of Indonesia, in three games at 21-14, 19-21, 21-12. Goh, placed at No 43 on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, and World No 3 Sindhu have never met earlier, but it is unlikely the Malaysian teenager will trouble the Indian ace.
Sindhu is actually on a quarter-final collision course with compatriot Saina, if the latter is able to get through her second-round match against another Chinese teenager, Chen Xiaoxin.
Liked the Goh-Sindhu joust, it will be the first meeting between Saina and Xiaoxin, who was able to get through her opening gallop with distinction, thrashing Denmark's Natalia Koch Rohde at 21-10, 21-3.
>Kashyap, Sameer Verma crash out
There was, however, no joy for the two Indian hopefuls in the men's singles. Veteran Parupalli Kashyap tried hard to put it across his old nemesis, Chong Wei Feng of Malaysia, but ended up losing at 18-21, 18-21 in 41 minutes. Meanwhile, 23-year-old 2016 national champion Sameer Verma crashed out of the competition after fading badly in the third game of a 16-21, 21-12, 10-21 loss to Japan's Kazumasa Sakai.
The 27-year-old Sakai, it will be remembered, had come through the qualifying rounds of the 2017 Indonesia Open Superseries Premier, to embark on a giant-killing run to the final, where he eventually bowed to India's Kidambi Srikanth.
For his exploits against Verma, Sakai has earned a second-round meeting with rampant world champion and top seed, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, who barely broke sweat while sweeping aside Taiwan's Hsu Jen Hao at 21-13, 21-7.
Although India's challenge in men's singles was eliminated at the very first hurdle in the Indonesia Masters, the country's doubles hopes in the forthcoming Thomas Cup team competition received a significant boost when the national runners-up combination of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty registered a big upset, knocking out the eighth-seeded Japanese pair of Takuto Inoue and Yuki Kaneko by a 21-15, 21-17 verdict in 35 minutes of breathless action.
The raw power of the 17-year-old Rankireddy was what weighed in the balance against the two experienced Japanese players, who have the advantage of being a righty-lefty combination. Besides, the Japanese duo has been playing together for the past five years, and are currently ranked No 10 in the world.
The Indians will now run into Chinese Taipei's Liao Min Chun and Su Ching Heng, who were lucky to get past Indonesian qualifiers Akbar Bintang Cahyono and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Isfahani by a 14-21, 21-15, 24-22 scoreline, saving two match-points in the decider of their hour-long encounter.
The other Indian pair in the main draw of the men's doubles, national champions Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy, met their Waterloo at the hands of another Taiwanese combination, Lu Ching Yao and Yang Po Han, at 21-18, 16-21, 21-16, after 58 minutes. The Indians trailed by vast margins right through the decider; and found it difficult to make up 8-15 and 10-19 deficits.
Perhaps the biggest shock on the opening day of the tournament proper was the exit of five-time former world champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist, Lin Dan of China, at the hands of a virtually unknown 19-year-old from Thailand, Kantaphon Wangcharoen, ranked 61st on the BWF computer. In what was a first meeting between the two, the Thai teenager eclipsed the 34-year-old, fifth-seeded Chinese legend at 21-15, 21-19, coming back from 11-16 and 17-19 deficits in the second game to wrest the final four points of the match.
Also on the losing side was the No 7 seed, Ng Ka Long Angus of Hong Kong, going down in straight sets at 21-19, 21-19 to wily Indonesian old-timer, Sony Dwi Kuncoro, who had won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics and the silver at the 2007 World Championships. The 33-year-old Surabaya native leaped to a 16-8 lead in the second game after winning the first narrowly, but then had to hold on for dear life to prevent Angus from turning the tables on him in the closing reaches of the 46-minute encounter.
All the other fancied players in the two stellar singles events advanced to the second round without any mishap, with third-seeded Chen Long, the two-time former world champion and reigning Olympic gold medallist, notching up an impressive 24-22, 21-10 victory over Denmark's up-and-coming Anders Antonsen.
Chen's further progress in the Indonesia Masters, following a largely unfruitful and injury-marred 2017 season, will be watched with great interest by badminton aficionados, particularly since the bottom half of the draw has been opened up by the last-minute withdrawal of Srikanth, who had been seeded second in this second major tournament of 2018. View More