Saturday proved an off-day for Anand Pawar and P.V. Sindhu. By turns, the last home challengers in the singles semifinals surrendered to higher-ranked rivals in straight games on the penultimate day of the $200,000 India Open badminton championship here.

Anand, ranked 53 in the world, lasted 44 minutes against Japan’s Kenchi Tago, who was never threatened en route to a 21-16, 21-11 triumph. The World No. 9 now plays top-ranked Lee Chong Wei, who stopped Thailand’s Boonsook Ponsana, ranked 11th, 21-11, 18-21, 21-8 in 53 minutes in the other semifinal.

Lee Chong Wei, set to play his third successive final here, will be bidding to regain the title lost last year.

Sindhu, 17, proved no match for this year’s All England runner-up and three-time World junior champion 18-year-old Ratchanok Intanon. In just 31 minutes, the World No. 6 from Thailand raced away to a 21-12, 21-6 victory over the reigning Asian junior champion in this battle of teenagers.

The other semifinal saw last year’s runner-up Juliane Schenk of Germany outplay Aprilla Yuswandari 21-18, 21-18 in 45 minutes for her fifth straight victory over the Indonesian.

Anand, who had not reached even the quarterfinals of a BWF Super Series event before this week, began well. However, after being in the lead briefly in the early part of the match, Anand struggled to deal with Kenichi’s serve and the slowness of the shuttle.

“Compared to previous days, the shuttle tended to open up more and that meant it stayed alive longer in a rally. He was far more comfortable with the shuttle-speed and won several easy points. I thought I could beat him, but he played much better on this day,” said Anand.

Sindhu committed far too many unforced errors to be effective on this day. From 9-9 in the first game, it was Intanon all the way.

“I could have played better, but Intanon was very good today,” said Sindhu, acknowledging the superiority of her rival.

Strangely, the longest semifinal of the day featured the world’s top-ranked player. Lee Chong Wei took his time to beat back the challenge of Ponsana, whom he has now beaten 11 times in succession for an 18th victory in 20 meetings. Ponsana played a better second game to force the decider, where the Malaysian was simply magnificent.

Though there will be no Indian on view in the title-clashes on Sunday, the past week did help showcase the growing depth of badminton talent in the country. Despite the premature exits of Saina Nehwal and P. Kashyap, there was much to cheer for the crowd as Sindhu, Arundhati Pantwane, Anand, B. Sai Praneeth, H.S. Prannoy, R.M.V. Gurusaidutt and K. Srikanth came up with some well-crafted victories.

“I am very happy with the performance of our players,” said chief National coach P. Gopi Chand, looking back at the week. “This week proved that there is more to Indian badminton than just Saina and Kashyap, who are already in the world top-10 list. Some of the younger lot are as physically fit as some of the better players in the world.

“Of course, there are lessons to be learnt from this week, but overall I am pleased that our second-rung of players are showing remarkable improvement.”

The results (semifinals):

Men’s singles: Lee Chong Wei (Mas) bt Boonsak Ponsana (Tha) 21-11, 18-21, 21-8; Kenichi Tago (Jpn) bt Anand Pawar (Ind) 21-16, 21-11.

The results (semifinals):

Men’s singles: Lee Chong Wei (Mas) bt Boonsak Ponsana (Tha) 21-11, 18-21, 21-8; Kenichi Tago (Jpn) bt Anand Pawar (Ind) 21-16, 21-11.

Women’s singles: Ratchanok Intanon (Tha) bt P.V. Sindhu (Ind) 21-12, 21-6; Juliane Schenk (Ger) bt Aprilla Yuswandari (Ina) 21-18, 21-18.

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