BIRMINGHAM, England – Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara got a measure of revenge on Friday against India’s PV Sindhu with a 12-21, 21-15, 21-13 victory in the quarterfinals of the All England Open, a badminton tournament that is being played despite a slew of coronavirus-triggered cancelations of sporting events in Europe and around the world.
The fourth-ranked Okuhara, who suffered a 21-7, 21-7 shellacking at the hands of Sindhu in the women’s singles final of last year’s BWF World Championships, appeared headed to a similar defeat at the start of the contest at Arena Birmingham in Birmingham, England.
Like she did in winning the biggest title of her career last August in Basel, Switzerland, the sixth-ranked Sindhu used her height and smashing power – and capitalized on her opponent’s errors – to dominate in the early going and grab a 17-7 lead.
Okuhara started to seize more initiative in the rallies late in the first game, but Sindhu clinched it when her opponent flubbed a shot close to the net.
The diminutive Japanese player stepped up her aggressiveness at the start of the second game to grab a 7-3 lead and an 11-8 advantage at the second mid-game interval.
Okuhara then remained in control the rest of the second game, using her quickness and strong net play to fluster the Indian world champion.
The Japanese player kept the momentum in the decider, including winning a thrilling, all-court rally to take an 11-5 lead at the final mid-game interval.
Sindhu closed to 13-7 by coming out on top in a grueling, 36-shot rally that ended with her opponent sprawled on the court and was reminiscent of some of the points in their classic match in the 2017 World Championships final (narrowly won by Okuhara).
But the Japanese player responded by claiming the next three points to grab a 16-7 advantage and clinched victory a few minutes later when Sindhu was unable to retrieve a shot that landed short in the court.
Next up for Okuhara in Saturday’s semifinals will be Chinese world No. 1 Chen Yufei, who edged Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon 17-21, 21-15, 21-17 on Friday.
Spanish reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin also reached the semifinals with a 21-15, 21-12 win over Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, while Taiwanese world No. 2 Tai Tzu-ying will take on Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong later Friday.
In men’s singles, Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia upset Chinese world No. 5 Chen Long 21-12, 21-18 and will next square off in one semifinal against Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, who routed China’s Shi Yuqi 21-15, 21-7.
The other men’s singles semifinal will pit Taiwanese world No. 2 Chou Tien Chen, a 21-11, 21-12 winner over countryman Wang Tzu Wei, against the winner of an all-Danish quarterfinal between Rasmus Gemke and Anders Antonsen.
That category is wide open at this year’s tournament due to the absence of Japanese world No. 1 and defending champion Kento Momota, who sustained an eye-socket fracture in a car accident in January in Malaysia in which the driver of the vehicle was killed.
Momota’s vision has apparently fully recovered, although he has precious little time to get back to tournament play and prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, where – if the coronavirus crisis subsides and it is held – he will be one of his country’s biggest gold-medal hopefuls.
The All England Open is the world’s oldest badminton tournament and is arguably the most prestigious event in the sport after the Olympics and World Championships.