Sure PV Sindhu and Sameer Verma would have preferred to become first Indians to win both men’s and women’s Super Series titles since Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth at the 2015 India Open. But with a run to the finals at the $400,000 Hong Kong Open, the two have met some personal goals.
Two Super Series finals in as many weeks is no mean feat from Sindhu. Having won the China Open Super Series Premier, the 21-year-old’s immediate target was to qualify for the year-ending World Super Series finals. The inspired run in Hong Kong not only paved her way to Dubai but also got her back into the top 10.
In Sunday’s final, Sindhu lost to Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying 15-21, 17-21. “It was a good game overall, but it was her day,” was Sindhu’s assessment.
It was Ying’s day alright. The 22-year-old had lost the last meeting against Sindhu, in the Rio Olympics round of 16. But on Sunday, she got her way with a mix of well-timed lobs and drop shots. Known to be adventurous, imaginative and unorthodox, Ying would hold the racquet up and push at the last possible moment. When back in the court, she’d trump Sindhu with disguised drops and well-placed smashes. At the net, she’d outmove the Indian and control the tempo. Sindhu’s trademark overhead smashes were few and far between, with the 5’10” Indian struggling to reach shots and stay in play.
Rightfully so, Ying became the world No. 1 with the win, after beating her predecessor and reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin twice in two weeks. And while Marin is faltering as the year draws to a close, Sindhu, the other finalist in Rio, is finishing strong.
For Verma, who had never even contested a Grand Prix final, there was nothing to lose. Unfortunately, he didn’ play like that. The audacity shown in the semifinal against world No. 3 Jan O Jorgensen was replaced with caution. And local favourite NG Ka Long capitalised on that. Within five minutes of play, Ka Long was 6-1 up. Verma lost the first game 14-21 but struck back in the second game as Ka Long looked to be under the pump by the occasion and a packed Hong Kong Coliseum. Ka Long regained composure and became the first man from Hong Kong to win the event.
“I was a little bit nervous,” admitted Verma. “I didn’t expect to reach the finals.”
There should be more finals in store for the 22-year-old, provided he keeps up with the increasing physical demands of the sport. As for Sindhu — who has gone toe with toe with virtually every top name this year — the one summit left to climb is the world rankings.
Sindhu and Verma may have fallen short but Indian badminton looks set to reach fresh heights.