The confidence of experience prevailed over the effervescence of youth as India's fourth-seeded PV Sindhu used all the wiles and guile gained over nearly a decade in international badminton to subdue Chinese teenager, Cai Yanyan, by a 21-13, 17-21, 21-14 scoreline in a 59-minute women's singles quarter-final of the Singapore Open World Tour Super 500 badminton championships on Friday.
Sindhu's win came as balm for the bruised souls of Indian supporters, for it proved a day when the other three Indians in the quarter-finals failed to advance further, and left the 23-year-old Hyderabadi as the sole surviving representative of her country in the $355,000 prize money tournament.
It was not even a totally convincing victory for Sindhu against the 2017 world junior bronze medallist, whom the Indian was crossing swords with for the first time. After a storming start, the fancied player blew hot and cold in the second game as the 19-year-old Beijing-based Chinese leaped to a 15-6 lead, was hauled back to 15-16, but kept her nose in front at the tape. In the decider, however, the lanky Indian led from start to finish, to seal her berth in Saturday's semi-finals.
Sindhu's senior compatriot, sixth-seeded Saina Nehwal, unsurprisingly failed to survive the last-eight stage against the No 2 seed from Japan, Nozomi Okuhara. The 29-year-old Indian was, as predicted, stiff and slow after her taxing 67-minute marathon the previous day with Thailand's Pornpawee Chochuwong; and was simply not in the match on Friday against the diminutive former world champion.
Okuhara, who may have been expecting a long, uncompromising battle, won at a canter by a 21-8, 21-13 verdict in a mere 36 minutes. Knowing her propensity for playing lengthy rallies and letting her own defence, accuracy and stamina weigh in the balance, her fans would have been left wondering when she had last played such a short match against a top-ten player!
The 24-year-old Nagano native thus advanced smoothly to a semi-final showdown with Sindhu, the woman she had pipped at 22-20 in the deciding game of the 110-minute long 2017 World Championship title match in Glasgow, that is still considered one of the greatest women's matches of all time.
Nevertheless, this is one time Sindhu has a massive psychological advantage over her Japanese rival. She leads 7-6 in their career head-to-heads, and has won three of their last four meetings, all taking place in the course of the last one year. The most recent of these jousts was at the BWF World Tour Grand Finals in Guangzhou, when the Hyderabadi won in straight games at 21-19, 21-17; and went on to bag the coveted crown.
The Indian would probably be happy at having avoided a semi-final meeting with Chinese Taipei's top-seeded Tai Tzu Ying, who was given a stern workout by South Korea's Sung Ji Hyun before she could scamper to a 21-11, 17-21, 21-16 victory in five minutes shy of the hour mark.
The Taiwanese World No 1 will play a repeat of her Malaysia Open final against Japan's third-seeded Akane Yamaguchi, who was too strong and steady for the artistic 2013 world champion, Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand, and eked out a relatively facile 21-13, 21-17 triumph in 38 minutes.
Unlike Sindhu, though, there was not much joy for the two Indian men in the quarter-finals, Kidambi Srikanth and Sameer Verma both played their hearts out, but found their respective rivals, the top and second seeds, far too strong in the third and deciding games of their extended encounters.
Verma played marginally the better match against Chinese Taipei's Chou Tien Chen, recovering from a horror start to keep the Taiwanese ace on court for nine minutes over the hour mark before going down at 21-10, 15-21, 21-15. The Indian was always three to four points behind in the decider, as Chou used his superior speed and power to win for the second time in two career meetings with the industrious 24-year-old from Dhar, Madhya Pradesh.
As for Srikanth, it appeared from his performance in the second game against his nemesis, the reigning world champion, Kento Momota, that he was finally going to run the Japanese left-hander close after trailing 3-11 in their career head-to-heads.
The 26-year-old from Guntur literally stole the second stanza from the marauding top seed, powering back from a 17-19 deficit to win the final four points of the game.
The effort rendered him hors-de-combat in the decider, as he simply did not have the breath and footspeed to trouble Momota, who switched to a more attacking mode and ran away with the decider, for a 21-18, 19-21, 21-9 triumph in 67 minutes. Srikanth was left ruing the fact that he had conceded an 11-18 lead to the southpaw in the first game, and had been unable to come closer than 17-19 on the rearguard.
The 24-year-old world champion, who thus sidelined his third Indian opponent in as many rounds " he had beaten B Sai Praneeth in the lung-opener, and HS Prannoy in Thursday's second round " moved into a semi-final encounter on the morrow with Denmark's 2017 world champion, Viktor Axelsen, who survived by the skin of his teeth against Indonesian Jonatan Christie by a 22-24, 21-18, 24-22 scoreline in an edge-of-the-seat 80-minute battle-royal.
The towering Dane had to dig deep into reserves he might not even have known he possessed, as he saved two match-points at 21-20 and 22-21 in the bitterly contested decider against the pint-sized Indonesian, who had distinguished himself in his hometown Jakarta last year by winning the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games.
Ironically, the man that Christie had pipped for the Asiad title after saving a couple of match-points, seventh-seeded Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, put up an outstanding display of speed and power in dismantling the challenge of the No 4 seed, the two-time former world champion and 2016 Olympic gold medallist, Chen Long of China, by a 21-8, 21-19 scoreline in 42 minutes.
The 22-year-old Ginting moved into a penultimate-round duel with the Taiwanese second seed Chou, with whom he is locked at 4-4 in head-to-head meetings. Axelsen and Momota will contest the other semi-final, with the top-ranked southpaw secure in the knowledge that he holds a crushing 11-2 head-to-head advantage over the Dane whose World Championship title he wrested in Nanjing last year.