Hyderabad: It was eventually left to the doubles team to salvage India’s pride at the India Open GP Gold tournament on Saturday. With the more fancied singles players having fallen by Friday, Jwala Gutta and V Diju carried on the momentum of their successful European season with a 21-11 21-12 whipping of Malaysia’s Ong Jien Guo and Chong Sook Chin in the semifinals. They will play the accomplished pair of Flandy Limpele and Vita Marissa, bronze medallists at the World Championships, in the final on Sunday. Jwala and Shruti Kurien, however, fell in the women’s doubles semifinals. In the women’s singles, top seed Pi Hongyan of France will take on Julia Wong of Malaysia in the final.
But what a story unfolded in the men’s singles! Taufik Hidayat and Hafiz Hashim, the most stylish stroke-players of this generation, reached the men’s singles final with an exhibition of the highest class. While Taufik was masterly in his manipulation of Indonesian teammate Tommy Sugiarto — killing the youngster sweetly with his placement and courtcraft, Hafiz was all languid brilliance against the speed and power of the young Chinese Chen Long.
Long had appeared fearsome in his run to the semifinals, having upset world No.1 Lee Chong Wei in the first round. The mighty smashes and rapier backhands appeared to have no match, but
Hafiz left him befuddled with his mix of deception and accuracy. The Malaysian kept a leash on the shuttle, making it tumble over the net time and again, leaving Chen no margin to work with. When he lifted the shuttle he kept it so deep that the Chinese could not bring his fearsome weapon, the smash, to bear. The first set was over in a flash, but Chen worked his way in by the second, and the match appeared to go to a tight finish.
Hafiz, however, had the legs and the breath to last the distance. The final match will showcase the best of contemporary badminton, for it features a master craftsman against a man who looks poetic on court.
Earlier, Taufik, who has slowly worked his way into the event after a mediocre first two rounds, played the puppeteer to his young compatriot. Tommy Sugiarto has impressive running ability, and a good all-round game, but he was no match for the former Olympic champion. Taufik stood in the centre of his court and waved the racquet like a magic wand, directing the shuttle to all the extreme corners; caressing it when needed, and unleashing his famous weapon, the backhand smash, from time to time. Tommy Sugiarto displayed a mighty heart — but his best was not good enough. “I’m feeling good,” said Taufik. “Tommy runs well, so it was difficult. If I win the final it will mean I’m in top form, not otherwise. The crowd has been supportive, I’m surprised at the reception I’ve got here.”