Kidambi Srikanth gets irritated with repeated references to the year 2017. He is sick and tired of comparisons between his present self and his annus mirabilis. The four Superseries titles he won that season was always a tough act to follow, and he doesn’t enjoy being reminded of that. “Please don’t keep comparing me with 2017. That’s in the past. It’s gone. I’ve moved on,” he implored. “I’ve become world number one since then, won a Commonwealth Games medal.”
There is more than a touch of frustration in Srikanth’s voice. Since December 2017, he has failed to win a title on the international circuit, being ousted in the quarterfinals on numerous occasions. So being able to get past compatriot B Sai Praneeth in a nail-biting three-game encounter to make the last four was an achievement to be relieved about, especially after losing the first game and being 1-7 down in the second.
Praneeth led 5-2 in the opener but Srikanth levelled at 13-all, only to concede a 14-18 deficit. The latter saved three game points before Praneeth managed to hold on. Praneeth seemed to be running away with the match before Srikanth fought back. Once he caught up, there was no looking back as he won six straight points to level the match.
Praneeth led in the third game as well, and was up 13-10. But a few quick points for Srikanth changed the complexion of the match and set up an exciting finish.
It was one of those matches that could have gone either way till the final point. The frequent sparring partners know each other’s games inside out and it came down to a few points and misjudgements. At 19-all in the decider, Praneeth left a shuttle well within his reach, thinking it was going long. But it landed in court and the 2015 champion sealed the deal 21-23, 21-11 21-19 in an hour and two minutes. It was only Srikanth’s third win in eight career meetings with the 20th-ranked Indian.
Tough passage for Sindhu
The favourite for the women’s title, PV Sindhu didn’t have things her own way in her quarterfinal against Dane Mia Blichfeldt. After overcoming an early deficit, the World No. 6 seemingly took control, but the tenacious eighth seed won’t let go. She threatened to make a comeback in both games, but Sindhu did just enough to hold her off 21-19 22-20. “I could have finished it much earlier,” the 2017 champions said after the 44-minute encounter. “There were too many unforced errors and misjudgements. Towards the end, I was just trying to keep the shuttle in court.”
In the first game, Sindhu had four game points and needed the fourth to take the opener. In the second too, the Dane pushed her beyond the mandatory 21. Sindhu will not be able to afford such lapses in her semi-final against fellow top-tenner He Bingjiao of China, who came through a high-quality pulsating encounter 21-18 26-24 against defending champion Beiwen Zhang of the United States.
The spectators at the KD Jadhav Hall got their money’s worth in the long exchanges between the two players. The match was, in a way, won twice as Zhang successfully challenged the line call in the first instance. The second time, the challenge of the Chinese-American was proved wrong.
Sindhu knows all about the dangers He can pose. “It will definitely not be easy. She is a tricky player with a lot of deception and anticipates well. I’ll have to be patient and be in control of my mind.”
The other main contender for the women’s singles crown, two-time champion Ratchanok Intanon had a surprisingly tough encounter against fellow Thai Busanan Ongbamrungphan. The underdog led for a long time in the first game and had chances in the second too, before Intanon’s experience and class pulled her through. She will now face Chinese seventh seed Han Yue, who defeated Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi 22-20 21-14.
Time of resurgence
Parupalli Kashyap is in the semi-finals of a Super 500 tournament after four years. He was much too sharp for World No. 32 Wang Tzu Wei of Chinese Taipei in registering a 21-16 21-11 victory. But the Indian, who has been seen more as a coach in recent times, guiding wife Saina Nehwal on the international circuit, has a tough task ahead of him, but which is unlikely to faze him. Viktor Axelsen had never lost to India’s HS Prannoy, and he maintained his unbeaten record with a commanding 21-10 21-16 win to move a step closer to the title he won two years ago. However, Kashyap has won both of his encounters with the tall Dane, though they last met more than four years ago.
There was a minor upset when seventh seed Khosit Phetpradab of Thailand was bounced out 21-16 21-15 by China’s Huang Yuxiang, who faces Srikanth next.