Badminton: India Open 2018: Chinese Shi Yuqi and American Beiwen Zhang win titles!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
China and America have showcased their mettle in world badminton by winning the Indian Open singles titles for 2018. American Beiwen Zhang, almost entirely self made, living on her own earnings and without any support from governments of USA which she represents and Singapore where she belongs defeated the defending Indian favorite PV Sindhu in the India Open BWF World Tour Super 500 at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, New Delhi on February 04.
In the men’s singles category, Chinese third seed Shi Yuqi beat Chinese Taipei’s second seed Chou Tien Chen 21-18, 21-14 in 47 minutes. All England Championships finalist and fourth seed Shi Yuqi of China walked away with the men’s crown after beating world no 7 and third seeded Taiwanese Chou Tien Chen 21-18 21-14 in a 47-minute duel. “Last year I didn’t win any tournament, so glad to win this and hope this become first of many to come,” world no 8 Shi Yuqi said through an interpreter.
For 21-year-old Yuqi, it was his first title since French Open victory in October 2016. Having gone without a title in 2017, Yuqi was anxious for 2018. “I really wanted it,” Yuqi, the 2017 All-England runner-up, told reporters after the match. Looking ahead to the season, he hoped to build on from here. “When you win once, you eye the second title. So, I will be doing that,” the Chinese said.
The defending female champion Indian shuttler PV Sindhu fell to fifth seeded Beiwen Zhang from the USA in the women’s singles final of the $350,000 India Open BWF World Tour Super 500 here on Sunday. The top seed lost 18-21, 21-11, 20-22 in an hour and nine minutes to give Beiwen her “career’s best moment” here. With the win, Beiwen levelled 2-2 in the head-to-head records against the Olympic 2016 silver medallist Sindhu. Beiwen bagged the winner’s cheque of $26,250, while Sindhu got $13,300.
In the women’s singles final, Beiwen was quick off the blocks. In the first game, she took a 3-0 early lead but Sindhu gained three consecutive points to pull level. Beiwen looked sharper, especially on her defence, as she opened up a 8-5 lead before the Indian took a 9-8 lead. Sindhu went to the mid-game interval with a 11-9 lead. However, Beiwen fought back after the break and later the two were involved in a see-saw battle till the 16-point mark from where Beiwen broke away. She fired a winner on the left and then Sindhu netted one before putting one out to concede three points on the trot.
Beiwen allowed Sindhu to be back into the contest as she wrongly judged one stroke to be long. The American then could only push it on to the net. But another winner was followed by Sindhu’ putting one wide to give Beiwen the 21-18 win.
In the second game, playing in front of the home crowd, Sindhu charged into contention by winning the second game quite easily. She was much more dominant, bringing her smashes into play. She raced to a 8-2 lead before Beiwen made it 4-8. Sindhu, however, led 11-4 at the mid-game break. After the break, Beiwen collected one point after another to narrow down the deficit to three at 10-13 before Sindhu grabbed seven consecutive points to take the match to the third game.
After ending the second game without much fight, Beiwen, however, got her way in the third game, reducing the time and lift Sindhu was getting in the previous game. Beiwen held a 9-4 lead but Sindhu rose to the challenge, not allowing her opponent to have her way. Sindhu trailed 9-11 at the mid-game interval but after the change of ends the Indian quickly pulled level at the 11-point mark. After Beiwen got one more point, Sindhu’s drop shot was netted by the American, who then conceded the 12-13 lead after failing to defend a smash on the right.
Leading 15-14, Sindhu was unable pick drop shots twice before hitting a defensive shot wide to give Beiwen a 17-15 advantage. Sindhu hit back with two bodyline smashes to equalize at 19-19 and a drop shot which Beiwen failed to reach. The American then failed to respond to a smash to trail 19-20. Sindhu then shot one to the net to make it 20-all. Beiwen then fired a smash before Sindhu hit one wide to lose the game 20-22.
Beiwen said: “Sindhu was under pressure of expectations in front of the Indian crowd, while I had nothing to lose. That helped me. “Normally I don’t hit so many smashes but I managed to do it today,” Beiwen said, revealing the errors of Sindhu.
Zhang travels without her newly hired coach Ding Chong to tournaments, who recently left the Singapore Badminton Association, because she can’t afford it. But that hasn’t really affected her mentally. “I finally have a coach. He is in Singapore but he keeps on giving me advice via messages,” Zhang laughs.
The duo has played each other on four occasions at BWF events, with Sindhu winning three of those matches. They also played once in this season’s PBL, where Sindhu was on top again. But Zhang wants to forget about her matches at the PBL as she had a bad run of games with Mumbai Rockets. “Well, PBL wasn’t good for me. I was recovering from a foot injury and couldn’t get the results,” says Zhang, who feels that one of the reasons why she starts slow is because she still experiences discomfort while lunging.
Currently ranked World No 11, Zhang’s finest performance came at the 2016 French Open, where she reached the final. But having entered the summit clash in New Delhi, Zhang now hopes to go all the way. “I want to win one Superseries this year,” she says. “I don’t think a lot or put pressure on myself before I go on court. Before this tournament I thought I was fit, but I found out I wasn’t. When I played Indonesia Open (in January) I prepared a lot but got crushed in the first round. Now I am not very consistent. Sometimes I play bad and sometimes I play well,” she adds.
However, all the matches between the duo have gone into the deciding game and Sindhu expects a neck-and-neck encounter on Sunday. “It’s going to be a tough match. I expect to be playing a lot of rallies,” predicts Sindhu. “I played against Zhang recently during the Premier Badminton League and I can say that it won’t be an easy match. She has fought brilliantly to reach the final. To enter the final of India Open is not easy,” she adds.
Defending champion P V Sindhu suffered a narrow defeat in a pulsating final against American Beiwen Zhang to finish runner-up at the India Open Super 300 badminton tournament. Playing her second tournament of the new season, Sindhu came agonizingly close to clinching the title before losing 18-21 21-11 20-22 to Zhang in the women’s singles final. Sindhu played long matches against Zhang, all of them going to the decider, and it was no different as the duo battled till the last point. Prior to today’s loss, Sindhu had won twice and lost once at the Indonesia Super Series Premier last year against the American.
Earlier, at the semi-final level, the fans were made to wait well past 10 pm for Sindhu’s semi-final clash against Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon as India was delaying the play ofr its candidate for too long possibly to make it difficult for the Thailand girl. Defending champion Sindhu aced the Intanon test with an impressive 21-13, 21-15 win to enter her second-straight India Open final.
Looking at the rampant form Sindhu is in at the moment, it is her title to lose. That being said, the 22-year-old shouldn’t underestimate a defensively strong Zhang, who could spring yet another surprise by upsetting the crowd-favourite with a lot of rallies.
Known for her deceptive flat-smashes and delicate crosscourt play, Intanon hardly applied pressure on an aggressive-looking Sindhu with her weaponry. In fact, the Thai shuttler had no answers to a constant barrage from the other side of the court. For example, when Intanon didn’t allow Sindhu to hit with power, the Indian ace created an opening and attacked from the net. There was also a tinge of maturity in her shot selection, something the Indian has been guilty of in recent tournaments. Sindhu went on and on. She didn’t even let her opponent a whiff of a chance to unsettle her in both the games.
Sindhi prefers a lot of aggression right from the beginning. “Attacking game is my power. That’s a style of play that suits me. I’ve been an attacking player since the beginning,” says Sindhu. After clearing the Intanon hurdle effortlessly, Sindhu set up finale against lone ranger Beiwen Zhang of the USA – a surprise finalist.
Bereft of proper facilities and coaching, the 27-year-old shuttler has had a tough route to the top after complications at the Singapore Badminton Association that led to a move to the USA a few years ago. En route to the summit clash, Zhang, who currently trains in Singapore, stunned Saina Nehwal 21-10, 21-13 in straight games before edging past Cheung Ngan Yi, who knocked the Olympics champion Carolina Marin out, in a three-game thriller in the quarter-finals.
Prior to today’s loss, Sindhu had won twice and lost once at the Indonesia Super Series Premier last year against the American.
All England Championships finalist and fourth seed Shi Yuqi of China walked away with the men’s crown after beating world no 7 and third seeded Taiwanese Chou Tien Chen 21-18 21-14 in a 47-minute duel. “Last year I didn’t win any tournament, so glad to win this and hope this become first of many to come,” world no 8 Shi Yuqi said through an interpreter. “I had played him before, so I analyzed those matches and it helped me win today. There were lot of long rallies in this tournament and I will take a lot of positives from here. It will boost my confidence.”
Chou, who settled for runner-up here for the second successive time, said: “I tried to push him but it is difficult top play against him. He smashed well. He is young and was stronger today. He was more focused than me.”
Coming to second grade non-single tournaments, Indonesian men’s doubles top-seeds Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo lived up to their reputation as they got past Danish fourth seeds Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen 21-14, 21-16 in 38 minutes. Third seeded Indonesian pair of Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu, who are ranked world no 7, defeated second seeded Thailand combo of Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai 21-18 21-15 in a 58-minute match to clinch the women’s doubles title. Fifth seeded Danish combo of Mathias Christiansen and Christinna Pedersen prevailed 21-14 21-15 over Indonesian pair of Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti in a 37-minute match to claim the mixed doubles crown, their first title together.
Hopefully, the champion of Indian Open 2018 Ms. Beiwen Zhang is now given her due place, office and payment both in USA and Singapore in honor of her unique achievement, defeating many big names in world badminton. It is indeed fortunate that highly skilled and motivated player of shuttle Beiwen Zhang has been paid any honorarium for her participation in intentional events by her own country Singapore or USA where she lives for years and she has been managing her life and sport by her own earning. In many countries huge sums are spent on players and coaches for their training.
For Beiwen Zhang, the India Open 2018 title is just the beginning.