PV Sindhu’s hopes of capping off a fabulous year with a title received a shot in the arm as she defeated China’s Chen Yufei in straight games on Saturday to enter the championship match at the Dubai World Superseries Finals.
Sindhu took 58 minutes to defeat the up and coming singles star from China 21-15, 21-18 and will now lock horns with the top seed at the tournament, Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, who came from behind to defeat Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand 17-21, 21-12, 21-19 in the first semi-final earlier in the day.
It will be a repeat of the final group stage match when Sindhu was barely tested by Yamaguchi in a 21-9, 21-13 win in just 36 minutes. The result meant that Sindhu topped her group and came unbeaten into the semi-finals against the 18-year-old from China.
The match against world No 8 Chen was a much closer affair than the scoreline would suggest, with the momentum swinging back and forth between the two players. Sindhu, who had crushed Chen in the semi-final of the World Championships in Glasgow, was made to work hard for her win in Dubai on Saturday.
The very first point saw Sindhu move Chen around the court, indicating that she was ready to play the waiting game. The Indian shuttler won five straight points, with the Chinese youngster perhaps struggling with nerves on her maiden Superseries Finals appearance.
But Chen found her footing quickly, to win five straight points of her own. Then, at 6-6, Chen went into the lead for the first time in the match. But soon, Sindhu won four straight points to make it 10-8, as Chen struggled for consistency. That was followed by a patient 42-shot rally that ended with a delicious drop shot by Chen to make 10-10.
There was very little to choose between the two, but Sindhu had a one-point lead during the mid-game interval. The Indian came back on the court in fine form, building a good lead again, by increasing the tempo after the break to make it 15-11, then 19-14. Some excellent, reflex defence by Chen made it 15-19 but Sindhu took the next two points, wrapping up the game with a delicate drop shot that caught the Chinese flat-footed. The score read 21-15, but it was much closer than the margin suggested.
It was a neck-to-neck start to the second game, with Chen finding her range with the smashes, playing the angles instead of going for power. But Sindhu soon took a 7-3 lead with an opportune smash that saw her getting pumped up with coach Gopichand cheering her on.
The pressure of trailing started to tell on Chen, and errors from racquet saw Sindhu open up a 9-4 lead. Chen kept fighting back with a series of perfectly-placed forehand smashes down the line that served her well all night, but Sindhu kept her opponent at an arm’s length, leading 13-9 and then 15-11.
Chen, however, refused to give up, winning five points in a row to take a 16-15 lead, trying to force the decider against a tiring Sindhu. The rallies kept lengthening and Sindhu received a yellow card for time-wasting, as she was taking time to recover between points. She stayed in the lead, but Chen was making Sindhu earn every point, with a 57-shot rally at the end serving as the highlight. Both players gave it all during that rally but the 18-year-old Chen gave Sindhu the run around and won the point with a drop shot to make it 18-19, leaving Sindhu gasping for breath.
A decider, if Chen had forced it, would perhaps have worked against Sindhu, with the youngster clearly fresher.
And then came the final turning point, and Chen’s inexperience showed as she made a silly error and admonished herself, with Sindhu celebrating her first match point, which she duly converted. In the end, the crowd – which has been vociferously rooting for Sindhu – erupted as the Olympic silver medallist reached yet another major final in 2017.
“It was a good quality match, even though it was over in straight games, there were a lot of long rallies,” Sindhu said after the match. “I’m happy to be the first Indian in the Women’s Singles final here; I would like to become the first Indian to win the title as well!”
“I was smart to take two or three points when she caught up with me. It’s like a home crowd. It’s good to see so many Indians supporting me here. I’m not going to expect anything [on Sunday]. It might be a long match. It won’t be as easy as it was yesterday.”