Men’s doubles delight for India while Sindhu loses thriller at French Open

The men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty advanced to the semifinals.

It was a day of some brilliant badminton at the 2019 French Open Super 750, as India’s top-ranked women’s shuttler PV Sindhu lost a thrilling match against top seed Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei. Saina Nehwal too bowed out of the competition after losing two close games against An Se Young of South Korea.

However, there was still cause to celebrate for India as the doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy won against Denmark’s Kim Astrup and Anders Rasmussen to keep their charge going in the competition.

Fine margins

There was some high quality badminton on display when Tai Tzu Ying and PV Sindhu took to the court in the latter half of the day. Both shuttlers packed a punch with their contrasting styles, making for a close first game.

While Sindhu relied more on her power and aggression, the Chinese Taipei player picked up most of her points with delicate drops and disguised shots. The score read 11-10 in favour of Tzu Ying at the first interval, with little to separate the two champion athletes.

The Asian Games gold medallist seemed to manoeuvre the shuttle at will and find gaps in Sindhu’s half of the court, building on her slender advantage from before the interval.

The Indian though wasn’t to be outdone easily, as she began mixing her game with a few drop shots of her own to edge ahead 17-16. Tai though once again showed her class, picking four points on the trot to clinch the first game 21-16 on the back of some delightful badminton.

Top seed Tai Tzu Ying defeated Sindhu 21-16, 24-26, 21-17 to advance to the semifinals
Top seed Tai Tzu Ying defeated Sindhu 21-16, 24-26, 21-17 to advance to the semifinalsTop seed Tai Tzu Ying defeated Sindhu 21-16, 24-26, 21-17 to advance to the semifinals

Sindhu’s fightback

After falling down by a game, Sindhu needed to make a good start to the second game and she did just that, quickly getting into a 4-1 lead. Uncharacteristically, Tai Tzu Ying hit a few of her smashes into the net, giving the Indian the ascendancy. That lead though wasn’t to last long, as the top-seeded shuttler soon broke serve and took three consecutive points to carry a one point lead into the interval, exactly like in the first game.

The break was followed by a spectacular 42-point rally, which saw both players manage returns from some incredibly acute angles, with Sindhu needing a powerful cross court smash to clinch the point.

The subsequent rallies also followed a similar pattern, as neither athletes allowed the other to capitalise on their serve, with the score reading 17 apiece. Sindhu tried relentlessly to dictate the pace of the match by playing some aggressive badminton, but that only caused Tzu Ying to ricochet some perfect smash shots back at her.

The game soon headed for a tiebreaker, and Sindhu had a chance to seal it four times, but the Chinese Taipei star somehow managed to stay alive through it all. It turned out to be fifth-time lucky for the Indian, as a couple of errors from Tzu Ying ensured she finally won it 26-24.

Decider

Tzu Ying started the final game on the front foot, incredibly managing to hit the shuttle over the tall frame of Sindhu and yet still keeping it within bounds. The 25-year-old began turning up the heat in the deciding game, playing more body smashes than before to get an 8-4 lead. The Chinese Taipei star though was susceptible to a few silly errors, hitting some easy shots into the net to keep Sindhu in the hunt.

Once again, the rally post the interval produced a mesmerising 35-shot rally, which was eventually won by the top seed with a diving attempt. Following that, Tzu Ying had a first period of sustained dominance, as she won six of the next eight points to open up a 18-12 lead. Her defensive way was proving too good on the night, nonchalantly deflecting Sindhu’s smash shot into an empty part of the net.

Sindhu fought back valiantly yet again, getting to 17 points, but Tzu Ying’s early spree had her in control of the tie. With the match on the line, the Chinese Taipei shuttler forced the Indian into playing an astray smash to seal the match 21-16, 24-26, 21-17 and advancing to her fifth consecutive French Open semifinal. She now faces either Carolina Marin of Spain or Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand.

Men’s doubles delight

In the men’s doubles category, the duo of Shetty and Rankireddy started off better in the first game of the quarterfinal against Denmark’s Kim Astrup and Anders Rasmussen, quickly getting into a 5-2 lead. There was plenty to admire about the Indian shuttlers’ game as they were precise in finding the gaps on the court, and forced their Danish counterparts to hit the shuttle out of bounds. Shetty in particular was very aggressive in his approach, tormenting his opponents with some relentless smash hitting.

The Thailand Open champions took a 11-6 lead into the interval, with the scoreboard pressure forcing the Danish shuttlers into a few reckless mistakes. The Indians continued their aggressive approach in the latter part of the first half, never allowing Astrup or Rasmussen to score more than two points from their serve. The speed with which Rankireddy and Shetty played was too hot to handle for the Danes, as they ended up losing the first game 13-21 after just 15 minutes.

In the second game, the Danish shuttlers started off on the aggressive, and the move immediately paid dividends, as they raced into a 4-0 advantage. The Indians though, clawed their way back into the game as they picked five of the next seven points to make it a competitive fight.

Astrup and Rasmussen took a slender one-point lead into the interval of the second game. Post that however, the Indians came out all guns blazing, picking four straight points to take the lead for the first time in the game. Rankireddy began playing closer to the net in a bid to rack up more points, with smashes hit straight into the opposition’s half.

The Danish side though remained resolute, as they picked four consecutive points to get the score to 16 all. From there on, there was nothing to separate the teams, as neither could get more than a point from their serves, eventually forcing the game into a tiebreaker.

The young Indian pair held their nerve, with two brilliant serves from Shetty forcing his opponents into mistakes, giving him and Rankireddy a hard fought 21-13, 22-20 win. The top-ranked Indian men’s doubles pair now face the Japanese duo of Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe.

Nehwal bows out

India’s Saina Nehwal, who won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, ended up second best after two closely contested games against An Se Young. The South Korean defeated Sindhu at the 2019 Denmark Open 22-20, 23-21 to advance to the semifinals of the French Open.

There was little to separate the two shuttlers in either of the games, as they both jostled point for point in a topsy-turvy quarterfinal to open Friday’s games in Paris. The young South Korean shuttler though showed greater composure at crucial junctures of the match to eventually end up on the winning side and set up a clash with second-seeded Akane Yamaguchi.

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