Indian badminton ace PV Sindhu finished second at the BWF World Tour Finals after a straight-games defeat against Korean teen sensation An Seyoung in the summit clash in Bali on Sunday.
Sindhu, the reigning world champion and two-time Olympic medallist, could not quite keep up with the sensational defence of the world number six Korean, losing 16-21 12-21 in the 40-minute clash.
It was Sindhu’s third successive loss – all straight games – to the Korean in as many meetings.
“I’m very happy to successfully score a hat-trick here. This victory is an upgrade for my achievements,” An said after the match.
With this victory, An Seyoung became the first ever South Korean woman to win the season-ending title. It was also her third straight title in Bali, following wins at the Indonesia Masters and Indonesia Open in the last two weeks. The previous two titles came without dropping a game, as the Korean laid down the marker for being the player to beat on the world tour at the moment.
Making her third final appearance in the year-end tournament, world number seven Sindhu, who had claimed the title in 2018 to become the only Indian to achieve the feat, was off to a slow start while An reeled off some quick points.
In the men’s singles, reigning Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark beat Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn 21-12, 21-8 in the final.
Axelsen, who was recently crowned world No 1, also won the Open title last week.
In the men’s doubles, home favourites Kevin Sanjaya and Marcus Gideon failed to follow their success at the Open after losing to Japan’s Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi 16-21, 21-13, 17-21.
This is the second loss for the world’s top pair – known affectionately by fans as The Minions – against the Japanese duo, who also beat them in the final of the Masters last month.
Japan’s women’s doubles pair Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida failed to complete their clean sweep of season-ending titles after losing to Korea’s Kim Soyeong and Kong Heeyong 21-14, 21-14 in a 44-minute match.
The Japanese pair previously bagged both the Indonesia Masters and Open titles.
“I am disappointed by this result. We were not able to get out from their pressure although we have tried to stop their domination,” Shida said.
The World Tour Finals, the last of three consecutive tournaments at the end of the season, was held amid criticism from fans who were concerned over the athletes’ wellbeing after back-to-back tournaments.
Four players including former world champion Kento Momota dropped out early due to injury.
Sindhu couldn’t get her attacking game right or make use of the full court. An looked more polished at the nets and rode on her quality strokes. She produced some sensational full stretch diving saves with her swift movement to blunt Sindhu’s game plan.
After trailing 0-4, Sindhu played a good rally to log her first points with a cross court return. She tried to narrow the gap by engaging her rival in rallies but An was quick on her feet and showed better anticipation to always keep her nose ahead.
The Korean doubled the lead to 16-8 after the mid-game break. Sindhu tried to make up the deficit with a few good points but the Korean managed to collect eight game points. Sindhu saved four game points by putting pressure on her opponent’s backhand, while the Korean also sent one long.
An Seyoung, however, sealed the opening game with a body return. There were, however, signs that Sindhu was starting to get a feel for the proceedings. She wasn’t playing badly, but An was just a step ahead.
And with that momentum, the second game started on an even keel with Sindhu managing to take a 5-4 lead but the agile Korean was quick to wrest back the lead after the Indian went long twice.
The teen shuttler soon extended her lead to 10-6 as she was relentless in the rallies, sending everything back to Sindhu. A razor-sharp return on her opponent’s forehand gave her a 11-8 advantage at the break.
After the interval, An continued to control the proceedings, galloping to a 15-8 lead with another exceptional full dive return. In a jiffy, she grabbed a massive 10 match points. Sindhu saved two before sending one to the net as the Korean celebrated.
Sindhu will next look to defend her title at the World Championships in Huelva, Spain starting December 12. Her runner-up finish in the World Tour finale in Bali will hold her in good stead as she has to navigate a draw where her potential third round, quarter-final and semi-final opponents are Pornpawee Chochuwong, Tai Tzu Ying and Carolina Marin respectively. An Seyoung, meanwhile, is in the bottom half and has laid down the marker for being the player to beat.
(With PTI and AFP inputs)
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