If one were doing pre-tournament predictions for the singles finals of the India Open Super 750, chances are three out of four names that eventually reached the summit clash would have been straightforward. There is simply no one better in men’s singles at the moment than Viktor Axelsen, and An Se Young versus Akane Yamaguchi has become the staple rivalry in women’s singles at the moment. And all three of those will be competing on Sunday in New Delhi at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall after their semifinal victories.

Completing the set is Kunlavut Vitidsarn, the three-time former junior world champion and 2022 World Championships silver medallist. He will once again have the unenviable task of competing against the juggernaut that is Axelsen.

Yamaguchi largely stayed in control against the tricky left-hander Supanida Katethong (who had defeated PV Sindhu) to win 21-17, 21-16. Se Young then battled hard against He Bing Jiao to win 11-21, 21-16, 21-16 in 74 minutes in what was perhaps the match of the day.

Vitidsarn prevailed in 58 minutes, most of which were to play out a marathon opening game, to win 27-25, 21-15 against Anthony Sinisuka Ginting. Axelsen, defeated another Indonesian Jonatan Christie 21-6, 21-12 in a display of ferocious attacking badminton that often left his opponent dazed.

Young guns shine

Thailand’s 21-year-old Vitidsarn and 20-year-old Se Young of South Korea have their tasks cut out against the current world No 1s and world champions in singles when they face them on Sunday in their respective finals. But they showed their mettle on Saturday, coming through tough examinations.

For the Korean star, who is firmly established in the top two now, He Bing Jiao had been a problem opponent in the past. Se Young lost each of the previous four matches the two had played each other in, and you could tell why when their semifinal started.

The left-hander from China has wonderful racket-skills and can cause anyone problems with the angle she finds with her smashes. That was evident in the first game again as Se Young struggled to put together any significant run of points (she never won more than two points in a row). The second game saw her up the tempo and put Bing Jiao under pressure on offence and defence. In the decider though, the world No *4 showed her true mettle, clawing back from 2-9 down to win 21-16.

“I have been continuously learning from all the mistakes against He, by losing and losing, I learned from those and managed to find the win today,” Se Young told reporters through a translator. “At the start I felt a little lazy, but got more energy and speed after the first game and that is why I managed to win.”

Yamaguchi and Se Young will now compete in a final for the seventh time in the short time in which their rivalry has become prolific.

Steady Vitidsarn

One of the players who had been earmarked for great things since his junior days, Thailand’s Vitidsarn has been consistently going deep in tournaments. And his relentless defensive work and tendency to control the shuttle were on display as he nullified Anthony Ginting’s attacking threat. It made the Indonesian concede after the match that he perhaps has to learn from the likes of Vitidsarn and Kodai Naraoka how to tackle these conditions.

For Vitidsarn, the mantra this week in India has been “control, control, control” and he will need that and then some in the rematch of last year’s World Championships final against Axelsen, where the Dane had won 21-5, 21-16.

Couple of world No 1s bow out

Mixed doubles and men’s doubles saw the world’s top pairings bow out. Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong had won 25 matches in a row coming into this familiar rivalry against Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino. But the Japanese pairing were fantastic on the day to defeat the Chinese world champions.

“My condition is not good at all,” said Zheng after the match in the mixed zone. “Huang Ya Qiong kept encouraging me and giving me confidence. We need some rest. We will go back to China for Chinese New Year and then we will go to the All England. I’m disappointed about my performance today, but not so much about the loss.”

In the battle of men’s doubles’ world champions vs world No 1, it was the former in Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik who came back from behind to defeat Indonesia’s Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Aridianto 11-21, 21-15, 21-16.

Complacency not an option for Axelsen

Axelsen said that while it was not nice to see his good friend Rasmus Gemke go out injured on Friday, he was fresh for Saturday’s match. And that showed from the get-go, as Christie simply couldn’t keep the shuttle in play long enough to bother the Dane. Axelsen also turned up the heat in attack similar to what has been seen of him in recent times. It made for a deadly combination, the perfect storm, as the Dane won in a canter with near 400-kmph smashes galore, and a backhand whipped winner down the line that left the arena in awe.

“Obviously felt really fresh, moved well and my shots were good. Looking forward to a good final,” Axelsen said after the match. “I really want to thank the Indian badminton fans for their support. I have been fortunate to do well here.”

Speaking about his attacking display, he added: “I know that he is a strong physical player, so it wasn’t my game plan to just go and run after the shuttle. I tried to go in there and be aggressive, up the pace and it worked really well today.”

And asked if avoiding comaplacency is something he tells himself repeatedly, he concurred.

“Just mentally, I really want to do well every single tournament,” he told the BWF.

“I have to do well every time I step on court. I am away from family so it has to be worth it, I cannot expect to be less than my best on the day.”

*Corrections and clarifications: An Se Young is world No 4 at the time of the tournament.