Olympic silver medallist shuttler PV Sindhu eked out a hard-fought win over world number two and defending champion Akane Yamaguchi in the opening women's singles group A match of the World Tour Finals in Guangzhou on Wednesday. Sindhu, who had finished runner-up at the last edition in Dubai, dished out a superb game, mixed with patience and aggression, to defeat the Japanese 24-22 21-15. However, Sameer Verma, who is the second Indian men's player after Kidambi Srikanth to qualify for the tournament, couldn't adjust to the pace of world no 1 and world champion Kento Momota, going down 18-21 6-21 in the opening group match.
Sameer, who defended his title at the Syed Modi International to qualify for the USD 1,500,000 event, will have to beat Thailand's Kantaphon Wangcharoen and Indonesia's Tommy Sugiarto in the other group B matches to salavge hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage. Making her third successive appearance at the tournament, Sindhu, who had a 9-4 head-to-head record against Yamaguchi, produced a controlled game in the slow conditions, never letting go despite lagging behind many times in the match.
The first game clocked 27 minutes as both the shuttlers fought tooth and nail for supremacy. Sindhu was trailing 6-11 at the first internal but she fought back to catch up with the Japanese at 19-19 with a smash on her rival's back hand. A battle of mind and body ensued as leads changed hands but it was Sindhu who showed better mental fortitude to claim the opening game after a stretched Yamaguchi sent her forehand return at the net.
In the second game, Yamaguchi tried to put pressure on the Indian's backhand but Sindhu was up to the challenge as she made some superb retrieves to lead 3-1 initially. Persistent pressure worked as Yamaguchi levelled par and went to a 4-3 lead when Sindhu made a judgement-error and soon moved to 6-3. Sindhu however soon grabbed the lead at 8-7 after her rival went wide and then hit the net. A fantastic rally ended with Sindhu on her knees at the forecourt.
She then went long but the Japanese too erred as it was 9-9. At the break, Yamaguchi held a slender 11-10 lead after Sindhu could not properly connect at the forecourt.
Sindhu took a 14-11 lead after the break, following two mistakes from the Japanese and a superb disguised flick at the back court. Sindhu dominated the proceedings after the break, grabbing a six-point cushion at 18-11.
Yamaguchi took two points before another long shot gave Sindhu another point. The Indian grabbed six match points when Yamaguchi hit the net again. The Japanese saved one before faltering at the net to hand over the match to Sindhu.
The top two players from each group will qualify for the semifinals, after which a knockout draw will be conducted. Only eight top players compete in the prestigious season-ending event.