Thursday proved to be a day of delight for Indian badminton fans as four Indians made it to the quarter-finals of the Crown Group Australian Open Superseries 2017 in Sydney.
Defending women’s singles champion Saina Nehwal was the last one to book her berth and she had to do it the hard way after overcoming a tough challenge from the 26th ranked Malaysian Soniia Cheah for a 21-15, 20-22, 21-14 win.
Saina looked flawless in the initial stages of the match as she raced ahead to 11-6 in no time. Playing fast and aggressive, she took time away from the Malaysian and never allowed her to settle into the match.
It was, however, when she was about to close out the game that Cheah found some of her fighting spirit and reduced the deficit from 9-20 to 15-20 by taking six points on the trot.
That inspired her to keep being on Saina’s heels throughout the second game and it paid rich dividends. She never let the Indian play freely, engaging her in long rallies. Her persistence paid off when she saved a match point at 19-20 to force a decider.
The resilient Cheah still kept on fighting in the decider even after falling behind multiple times. From 0-4 down, she levelled matters and then reduced her eight-point deficit to just four at 12-16.
But Saina managed to stamp her authority after that as Cheah’s massive efforts finally took a toll on her. The Malaysian was able to add just a couple more points from that point on and the Indian wrapped it up in 1 hour 2 minutes.
2016 Australian Open final rematch next
She will next meet the sixth seed Sun Yu, a player against whom she has a 6-1 head-to-head record.
Incidentally, the Chinese was the very player she beat last year to the title and so this will be a rematch of last year’s summit clash, two rounds early.
Earlier, PV Sindhu notched up a comfortable 21-13, 21-18 victory over the World No. 22 Chen Xiaoxin of China to set up a tough quarter-final showdown with the top seed and World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying.
Blockbuster all-Indian quarter-final
In the men’s singles section, Indonesia Open champion Srikanth Kidambi stunned the top seed and World No. 1 Son Wan Ho for the second time in as many weeks with a 21-15, 13-21, 13-21 win.
He thus ensured a blockbuster all-Indian quarter-final clash with his fellow academy-mate B Sai Praneeth, who emerged a 21-15, 18-21, 21-13 winner over World No. 25 Huang Yuxiang.
It will be a rematch of the Singapore Open final that they contested in April in which Sai came back from a game down to edge Srikanth.
Doubles teams bite the dust despite gutsy effort
Meanwhile, there was no such joy in doubles as both the Indian teams in action suffered defeats. The young men’s doubles team of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty lost 16-21, 18-21 to the eighth seeds Chen Hung Ling and Wang Chi-Lin.
The women’s doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy snatched a game off the seventh-seeded Japanese team of Shiho Tanaka and Koharu Yonemoto but went down fighting in the end, 21-18, 18-21, 13-21 in a one-hour five-minute battle.