A gritty Sameer Verma produced a sensational performance to defend his men's singles title, making up for the failure of his compatriots in the other finals at the USD 150,000 Syed Modi International here Sunday.
World no 16 Sameer defeated China's Lu Guangzu 16-21 21-19 21-14 in a pulsating summit clash to lift the trophy for the second successive time even as Saina Nehwal, men's doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty and women's doubles combination of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy bite the dust. Sameer's performance helped him gather enough ranking points to surpass Japan's Kenta Nishimoto at no 8 in the Race to Guangzhou Rankings and qualify for the year-ending BWF World Tour Finals to be held in December. Olympic silver medallist P V Sindhu is the only other Indian to have qualified for the prestigious tournament in China.
"I am really happy that my efforts paid off and I could qualify for the World Tour Finals. Even before the tournament I knew that I had a chance of qualifying if I win the tournament, so that was the target," said Sameer. Earlier, former champion Saina failed to produce her best, losing 18-21 8-21 to young Chinese Han Yue -- a 2017 world junior championship silver medallist -- in a lop-sided women's singles summit clash. Commonwealth Games silver medallists Satwiksairaj and Chirag also went down 11-21 20-22 to second seeds Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto of Indonesia to settle for the runners-up prize in the men's doubles competition.
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Ashwini and Sikki also couldn't live up to the expectations, losing 15-21 13-21 to third seeded Malaysian pair of Chow Mei Kuan and Lee Meng Yean in women's doubles final. The Indian pair had lost in the finals in the last edition as well. Sameer then brightened up the dismal day with his never-say-die attitude to claim his third title of the season, following victories at Swiss Open and Hyderabad Open. Sameer squandered an 8-4 lead to lose the opening game.
In the second, he looked in better control, leading 13-8 and 18-16 before taking the match to the decider. In the third, he erased a 7-10 deficit to eventually seal the contest. "I was under pressure in the first game. I was not able to control the shuttle. He had a good attacking game and the shuttle was fast but I made a good comeback in the second, I controlled it better. I knew I had to win this match. So I was just playing for each point," he said. The Indian constructed the rallies well with his repertoire of strokes to dominate early in the opening game. He led 6-2 initially, before extending it to 8-4. However, Lu rode on his three smashes to claw back at 8-8.
Lu unleashed another down-the-line smash and won a fast-paced rally to gain a three-point advantage at the break. After the interval, Sameer levelled the scores with three straight points. But Lu again turned the tide, smashing his way to a comfortable 20-14 lead. Sameer saved two points before another smash earned Lu the bragging rights. In the second game, Sameer eked out a 10-7 lead after some exciting rallies. The Indian grabbed an 11-8 lead at the breather after Lu hit long. After the break, Lu kept finding gaps in his rival's defence to narrow the lead to 13-14 and then turned the tables when Sameer hit the net.
A wide smash from Lu again gave the lead to Sameer at 17-16. But two precise returns helped Lu to draw parity at 18-18. Another fast-paced rally ended with Lu hitting wide and he found the net next to hand two game points to Sameer, who hit an accurate return at the backline to bounce back in the contest. Sameer used the momentum of the second game to dominate early in the decider, leading 7-3 but Lu reeled off seven straight points to led 10-7. The Indian then unleashed three smashes, including a body smash, to make it 10-10.
Lu went to the net next as Sameer managed a slender 11-10 advantage at the break. The Indian took the next two points after the change of sides before an excellent drop shot left him sprawling on the floor. The Indian then pounced on the chances to eke out a 16-12 lead with the help of better net game and a couple of rasping shots. Lu then hit long and wide to hand over six match points to Sameer, who converted them as the Chinese hit the net.