PV Sindhu stayed on course for a first title of 2018 with a dominating semi-final win over Ratchanok Intanon, while Sameer Verma failed to convert a match point in the second game to lose against local favourite Shi Yuqi in the BWF World tour Finals last-four round in Guangzhou on Saturday.
Sindhu, who had lost in the final of the year-end event last season in Dubai, defeated Intanon 21-16, 25-23, before Verma fought hard but finished on the losing end of a 68-minute encounter against Shi Yuqi, who won 12-21, 22-20, 21-17.
In Sunday’s final, Sindhu would face 2017 world champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan, who defeated her compatriot Akane Yamaguchi in straight games.
Earlier, Sindhu went into the women’s singles semi-final high on confidence, having topped her group with three wins including one against her long-time nemesis Tai Tzu Ying in three games. That proved to be the major difference in the semi-final against Intanon.
In the opening game, it was Intanon who started with a more aggressive approach, while Sindhu was happy to find her rhythm before beginning to play her attacking strokes.
The Thailand shuttler wanted to pin Sindhu to the back court but the Indian was more than a match to this game plan as she used her height to intercept the drives and lifts, and played delectable half smashes to stay ahead of the curve.
However, Sindhu’s own mistakes kept Intanon in the hunt in the first part of the game as she, at times, was guilty of looking for winners even when she was not in position to play those strokes. But the Indian still went into the mid-game break with a two-point advantage.
She did not look back from there, as she was ready to counter-punch against Intanon’s drives and smashes. Sindhu induced a number of errors from her opponent and pocketed the opening game 21-16.
The world number six built on that momentum by taking a 4-0 lead in the second game, before Intanon fought back to level the scores at 7-7 and then take a one-point lead at 11-10 for the first time in the game.
But Sindhu changed the tempo of the game after the break, going for her booming smashes and taking the shuttle early on the overhead to once again regain the lead. At this point, Intanon changed her tactics once again and pushed the Indian on the defensive to take the lead at 16-15.
However, the Thai inexplicably missed a down-the-line smash after controlling the rally throughout the point to allow Sindhu the draw level.
It was a battle of nerves thereafter as Sindhu relied on her booming smashes, while Intanon delightfully built up a rally to create openings for a winner.
To Sindhu’s credit, the 23-year-old wasn’t ready to give up at any moment – diving, lunging to keep the shuttle in play and forcing Intanon to play that one extra stroke to win the rallies.
In the end, Sindhu managed to save three game points before clinching the match by winning one of the best rallies of the match – forcing Intanon to chase the shuttle all around the court and finishing it with the simplest tap at the net.
So near so far for Verma
Verma needed time to get off the blocks and lost three points rather quickly but one long rally thereafter, where he not only managed to get the length of his strokes right but also showed good attacking instinct, got him going.
While the retrieving was always spot on, just when Shi felt that he had found the perfect winner, Verma was quick to grab the initiative at the net as he rushed to tap anything that was slightly higher.
Sameer went into the mid-game interval with a one-point advantage at 11-10. But from there, he dominated the exchanges and even left Shi flummoxed at times with his counter-attacking cross-court drives to win 10 of the next 12 points. He pocketed the first game rather easily.
The second game followed a similar trajectory with Verma giving away four quick points as he struggled to adjust to the other side of the court but then grew in confidence with every point played.
He began pinning Shi Yuqi to the back court and his ability to pounce on any weak stroke from the opponent meant that the Chinese was forced to go for expansive winners. Shi ended up losing seven straight points from after being 8-3 up to 8-10.
Verma went into the mid-game interval with a lead of two points but, unlike the first game, Shi wasn’t ready to give up this time around and kept the pressure on the Indian by raising the tempo and attacking with more purpose.
Two uncharacteristic errors from Verma gave Shi a handy 19-17 lead but the Indian hit back immediately to win the next three points and earn his first match point. However, it looked like nerves got the better of Verma as that allowed the experienced Chinese to force a decider.
The missed opportunity seemed to have rattled Verma as he once again conceded a four-point lead. The world number 14 did make a comeback to level the scores at 9-9 but Shi had a lot more in his tank as he attacked relentlessly to take the next five points and open up a 14-9 lead.
There was no stopping the Chinese thereafter as he won most of his points with down-the-line smashes. Though Verma managed to save three of the six match points, it was the Chinese who had the last laugh.