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Xuerui continues long march

On Sunday, when the finals of the 2012 Djarum Indonesia Open get underway, one player will be in line for a stunning sequence of victories. Li Xuerui will aim to win her fifth straight title, and just as remarkably, her 31st match win in a row.

Chinese women players are a unique breed, but even so, Xuerui’s victory sequence makes her stand out from that impressive bunch: her last defeat was in January, to world No. 1 Wang Yihan at the Malaysia Open. Since then, she has beaten nearly every top player on way to four major singles titles and the Uber Cup team trophy.

Semifinals day saw Xuerui (pictured right) post her third straight victory over Yihan, in just 40 minutes. Xuerui was comfortable right through, and her decimation of the world No. 1 is an ominous sign for her opponents in the run-up to the Olympics. Whether world No.5 Saina Nehwal can reverse that run of form on Sunday remains to be seen.

Saina has had her own little victory streak, reaching her second straight major final after her title win in Thailand last week. She gutsed it out over Sung Ji Hyun on Saturday; the 22-20 21-18 victory, coming after her marathon match against Wang Shixian on Friday, showed the extent of her physical and mental toughness, for she had spent 3-1/2 hours on court in her three matches until the semifinal.

Sung gave Saina plenty of trouble, as her whippy slices and steep smashes left the Indian scurrying around the court. The Indian, for her part, kept in the hunt by sheer willpower as she tried to cut the rallies short and prevent the match from dragging on. Sung led in both games, but what undid her effort was a lack of steadiness on the big points; Saina’s superior mental toughness saved the day and saw her through.

In the men’s singles, eighth seed Pengyu might be the most underestimated of the top four Chinese, but in this tournament he has shown great hunger to win by refusing to give up on any point. Just as he had dived around and retrieved every shuttle in the quarterfinal against Sony Dwi Kuncoro, he demoralized his semifinal opponent Hu Yun. The Hong Kong player is a strokeful type with nifty variations, and even though Pengyu was beaten by deception, he made up by diving around and sending the shuttle back, until Hu Yun ran out of ideas.

Pengyu’s opponent in the final will be another strokemaker, the seventh seed Simon Santoso (pictured left). The Indonesian was sublime as he sliced apart P Kashyap’s challenge. It was the kind of badminton not seen often these days – Santoso was unhurried elegance, his footwork so smooth that not a step was out of place, while the strokes seemed to flow from his racket. Kashyap, though he fought hard, was outclassed.

There was no doubt that the partisan Indonesian crowd was treated to a feast at the OSIM BWF World Superseries Premier event in Jakarta as the home team delivered top-notch action in the semi-finals.

In the doubles, the unseeded women’s pair of Greysia Polii / Meiliana Jauhari gave the world No. 2 Chinese pair of Zhao Yunlei / Tian Qing a good run for their money, taking them to three games before bowing out 19-21 in the decider. While the former world and Olympic champions pair of Markis Kido / Hendra Setiawan, tested Korea’s world No. 2 pair Lee Yong Dae / Jung Jae Sung (pictured right) also going down 21-14 17-21 15-21 in the men’s doubles discipline.

Meanwhile, the Tontowi Ahmad-Lilyana Natsir mixed doubles combination continued to roll on its fourth straight final. The Indonesians were devastating against Xu Chen / Ma Jin in the first game, treating them with such disdain that it spilled into overconfidence in the second game, which the Chinese won.

Eventually, the Indonesians had to recover from a three-point deficit to take the tie. They square off against Thailand’s Sudket Prapakamol / Saralee Thoungthongkam – interestingly, the two pairs have met in the last two finals as well, in New Delhi and Basel, both of which were won by Ahmad / Lilyana. With two finals featuring Indonesians, the crowd will have plenty to cheer.

Results of the semifinals of the 2012 Djarum Indonesia Open can be found here.

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