Sameer Verma stages incredible comeback at Thailand Open
Sameer Verma comes across as a very shy and quiet person. Even after his greatest of victories, the 26-year-old has always maintained his calm demeanour.
Tuesday was no different as the Pullela Gopichand protégé staged possibly the most incredible comeback of his career, saving as many as seven match points to outsmart Lee Zii Jia 18-21, 27-25, 21-19 in a marathon first round that lasted an hour and 14 minutes on the opening day of the $1 million Toyota Thailand Open.
Down 18-21, 6-17 it looked all but over for Sameer at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, but the gritty shuttler from Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, stuck in there, kept the bird in play to first close the gap and then push the match into the decider by claiming his first game point.
After losing the second game in that fashion, the demoralised eighth seeded Malaysian never found his rhythm in the third game. Sameer, on the other hand, found his game and confidence and never relinquished his lead again to enter the second round of the Super 1000 tournament.
“I was not mentally prepared for this tournament,” said Sameer, who bettered his record to 2-4 against world No.10 Lee. “In the second game my ankle was hurting a bit. I was down during the interval of the second game, and my coach told me to just focus on playing my own style.”
Following title wins in 2017 and 2018—when he also reached the prestigious year-ending World Tour Finals—and a career high of world No.11 in early 2019, the last two years have been far from ideal for Sameer, who did not even manage to reach the semi-finals of a single tournament in the period. Last week too Sameer exited in the first round after losing to Indonesian Shesar Hiren Rhustavito.
However, the world No.31 hopes that this remarkable win will give him renewed confidence of pushing ahead into the tournament, displaying resilience and tenacity. “It was all about my mind. This will give me confidence for the rest of the tournament,” said Verma.
The Indian will next face Danish world No.17 Rasmus Gemke, who progressed after Parupalli Kashyap retired while trailing 0-3 in the first game. Kashyap pulled out due to a calf muscle strain in his right leg which had also forced him to withdraw from last week’s Yonex Thailand Open first round too. “It hasn’t recovered fully. Not good enough to play a match. I need to get the calf back to match intensity which will take a few weeks,” he said from Thailand.
It was also a positive day for reigning world champion PV Sindhu who overcame local player Busanan Ongbamrungphan—who had beaten Saina Nehwal in the second round last week—21-17, 21-13 in 43 minutes. This was the sixth seed’s 11th victory over the world No.12 in 12 meetings. “It was a good game and I’m very, very happy. This win was very important for me in this tournament because last week, I went out in the first round,” said the world No.7. Sindhu next takes on Malaysian Kisona Selvaduray in what will be their first ever contest.
Kidambi Srikanth too progressed to the second round after using just 38 minutes to beat local player Sitthikom Thammasin 21-11, 21-11 to take a 3-0 lead in career meetings. “After the first tournament, I’m pleased with this win,” said Srikanth, who had pulled out last week due to a calf muscle strain. “I have been unable to practice for four days as I had a calf strain. I have been resting and icing the calf, plus I got some practice in yesterday. I’m happy with the win and I’m looking forward to the next round,” added the former world No.1, who next faces third seed Anders Antonsen of Denmark.
Progress in doubles too
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa took 40 minutes to beat scratch Danish pairing of Niclas Nohr and Amalie Magelund 23-21, 21-18. Rankireddy returned later in the day to partner Chirag Shetty with the men’s doubles pair beating compatriots Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy 22-20, 28-26 in 45 minutes.
However, it was curtains for former world No.1 Saina Nehwal who went down in straight games to former world champion Ratchanok Intanon. The Thai fourth seed took just 32 minutes to win 21-17, 21-8 and better her record to 6-12 against the world No.20 Indian. “I’ve played Newhal before and lost a few times and so I’ve learnt from those experiences. Newhal is one of the players I try to copy, she’s fast. I was able to play how I wanted. Saina has good fighting spirit inside her,” said Intanon.
Indonesian fifth seed Anthony Sinisuka Ginting beat Sameer’s elder brother Sourabh 21-16, 21-11 in 36 minutes to extend his win-loss record to 3-0 against the Indian.
Sai tests positive
Meanwhile, world championship bronze medallist B Sai Praneeth tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday, forcing him out of the tournament. He was due to play the first round against Malaysia's Daren Liew on Wednesday. "The player has been taken to hospital for further observation and testing, and is required to stay in hospital for a minimum of 10 days," said Badminton World Federation (BWF) in a statement.
Srikanth, who was sharing his hotel room with Sai, has had to withdraw and is in strict self-quarantine despite testing negative
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- The world No.10 men’s doubles pair was greeted by a new member of the coaching staff - former world No.1 in men’s doubles, Mathias Boe.
- Sports Ministry and BAI spoke to top players to take stock of Olympics preparation of shutters after the Asian leg
- Either side of the Covid bout though Rankireddy ensured he trained regularly to keep fitness levels up. That was on show during the two Thailand Opens—where the Indian campaign ended on Saturday.