PV Sindhu downs world champ Yamaguchi, faces Olympic champ Chen in Thailand Open semis
The sixth seeded Indian prevailed 21-15 20-22 21-13 over second seeded Japanese in 51 minutes to set up a clash with Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei of China.
The last time PV Sindhu and Akane Yamaguchi, the two most recent world champions in women’s singles, played each other, the Japanese had won in controversial circumstances.
It was in the semi-finals of the Badminton Asia Championships three weeks ago in Manila when leading 21-13, 14-11 Sindhu was handed a point penalty by the chair umpire for taking too much time between points. The moment completely unsettled Sindhu, the 2019 world champion, who eventually lost and had to settle for bronze instead of fighting for gold.
On Friday too, the match, a Thailand Open quarter-final this time, was heading in the same direction, barring the controversy. After winning the first game 21-15, Sindhu raced away to lead 11-5 in the second game. But the world No. 1 clawed back, taking advantage of a string of errors from her two-time Olympic medallist opponent.
Instead of going for the kill, Sindhu began to engage the diminutive Yamaguchi, who is known for her fighting spirit. The reigning world champion used her speed, deception and fluid wrists to pocket the second game 22-20 and push the match into the decider at the Impact Arena in Bangkok - venue of India’s Thomas Cup triumph last Sunday.
The third game saw a close fight between the two at the start but the second-seeded Yamaguchi looked like she was struggling with a back problem. She stopped lunging forward and took awkward stances while playing back court shots. Sindhu took advantage to race away to 13-7 from 7-all before closing the game and match 21-13. With the 51-minute victory, Sindhu bettered her record to 14-9 against Yamaguchi.
The former world champion will need to up her game if she wishes to progress to the final at the $360,000 event as she faces reigning Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei on Saturday. The third seeded Chinese downed Canadian Michelle Li 21-14, 20-22, 21-17 in an hour and five minutes.
Sindhu and Fei haven’t faced each other since the World Tour Finals in December 2019 when the Chinese won in three games but the Indian has a 6-4 head-to-head advantage.
Chen has won the Thailand Open in 2019 while Sindhu’s best show at the Super 500 event was reaching the final in 2018 when she lost to Yamaguchi’s compatriot Nozomi Okuhara. Saina Nehwal is the only Indian women’s singles player to have won the tournament in 2012.