What is the reason for the antipathy between HS Prannoy and match points, particularly if four of them have been earned?
It happened at the Indonesia Super Series Premier badminton championships, seven weeks ago, that the Kerala-born World No 17 squandered four match points while losing to unheralded Japanese, Kazumasa Sakai, after lowering the colours of illustrious shuttlers like Lee Chong Wei and reigning world champion Chen Long in his previous two rounds.
It was with a sense of déjà vu that we saw the fourth-seeded Prannoy do an encore at the New Zealand Grand Prix Gold tournament on Friday, surrendering the advantage of 20-17 and 21-20 leads in the decider of his quarter-final tussle against Chinese Taipei’s No 11 seed, Lin Yu Hsien, and bow out of the competition with a 10-21, 22-20, 21-23 defeat.
Prannoy’s defeat, after 66 minutes of a no-holds-barred contest, signaled the end of the Indian challenge at the Auckland competition. Seventh-seeded Sourabh Verma had earlier put up a disappointing show against unseeded Hong Kong player, Lee Cheuk Yiu, going down by a 19-21, 16-21 scoreline in 42 minutes.
The quarter-final results of the men’s singles also revealed a strong surge by Chinese Taipei players, with three of them — top-seeded Tzu Wei Wang, sixth-seeded Hsu Jen Hao and eleventh-seeded Liu — barging into the semi-finals. Hong Kong’s unconsidered Lee, conqueror of three seeded players thus far was the odd man out in the Taiwanese party.
The eventual result of the Prannoy-Lin clash failed to underscore the pluck and fight that the 25-year-old Indian had shown in the second game, when he saved two match points to overturn Lin’s 20-18 lead that had the potential to give the Taiwanese player, also 25-years-old, a facile triumph — at least, on paper. That was really the first time in the match that the proceedings reached a crescendo, and provided intense, edge-of-the-seat drama to the spectators thronging Auckland’s North Shore Events Centre.
The opening game had seen an unexpected meltdown from the Indian after the players went into the lemon break with the Taiwanese, ranked No 48 on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder, having his nose marginally ahead at 11-10. On resumption, Lin hit a purple patch with pinpoint placements, aided by a spate of errors from Prannoy, who inexplicably failed to garner a further point as his rival piled up ten on the trot.
The World No 17, however, opened out to a 4-1 lead in the second and led almost the entire way until 17-14 when the Taiwanese player made a big leap with five points in a row, to be on the threshold of an impressive victory at 19-17, and then 20-18. This was the point at which the Indian was seen at his finest, as he fought to salvage the second game with an unbroken four-point reel, and take the contest to a decider.
There was virtually nothing to separate the two rivals in the rubber, though Prannoy forged ahead after 10-all, to take a small lead which was neutralised by Lin at 14-all. The Indian broke away again to 18-14, and the two traded punches until Prannoy stood at match-point 20-17.
The Taipei star saved every one of those three match points, but Prannoy again stood on the threshold of victory at 21-20. Alas, the old four-match-points hoodoo hit him again with a vengeance; and the match dribbled away from his despairing grasp, as Lin qualified for a semi-final joust with his compatriot, the No 1 seed and World No 12, Tzu Wei Wang.
As for the 24-year-old reigning Indian national champion Sourabh, the thrust of his challenge was concentrated into the second half of the opening game against Lee, when he made up huge 1-6 and 8-14 deficits to draw level at 16-all, and then 18-all. However, he could not stop the Hong Kong player from taking a firm grip on the match by converting his first game-point at 20-19.
Sourabh could not raise his game in the second game, and did not lead even once. After 1-all, Lee leaped to 5-1, and then 10-4, before going into the breather at 11-6. Once he opened up the lead to 18-11, the writing was on the wall, and the Indian was clearly fighting a losing battle. The closest he came to the Hong Kong player was 15-18, before throwing in the towel.
With top seed Tzu appearing to be in magnificent form, and giant-killer Lee — who has now claimed the scalps of three seeded players in Jonatan Christie of Indonesia (No 3), Misha Zilberman (No 13) and Sourabh Verma (No 7) — appearing to be on an irresistible roll, it would take a stout-hearted punter to bet against these two worthies making it to the final of the $120,000 tournament, one of the final ones before the World Championships in Glasgow from 21 August.
Published Date: Aug 05, 2017 12:35 pm | Updated Date: Aug 05, 2017 12:40 pm