New Zealand GPG: HS Prannoy reiterates credentials as India's flagbearer, Sourabh Verma stuns Parupalli Kashyap

US Open champion HS Prannoy, who has taken over the role of India’s flagbearer at the $120,000 New Zealand Grand Prix Gold badminton championships after the early exit of Ajay Jayaram, remained on track for a podium finish when he quelled the challenge of Hong Kong’s Wei Nan in two straight, albeit tough, games at the North Shore Events Centre in Auckland on Thursday.

The fourth seeded Prannoy, who beat the tenth ranked Hong Kong veteran by a 21-18, 21-19 scoreline in a 46-minute third round clash, was joined in Friday’s quarter-finals by 24-year-old Indian national champion Sourabh Verma, who used his six-year age advantage to the hilt while outlasting compatriot and regular sparring-partner, Parupalli Kashyap, with a 21-18, 13-21, 21-16 verdict.

The 30-year-old Kashyap, seeded 15th in Auckland, was painfully aware of the fact that he needed to win the encounter in two games against the extremely fit No 7 seed, Sourabh, if he were to progress further in the tournament. The younger man, however, was equally cognisant of that fact, and made sure that he did all the front-running in their bruising 64-minute tussle.

File image of HS Prannoy. AFP

File image of HS Prannoy. AFP

Sourabh broke into a 6-1 lead before Kashyap could get his bearings, enlarged it to 10-3, and sat on that advantage throughout the opening game. The older player did reel Sourabh in from a near-hopeless 8-16 position with a five-point burst, and then came as close as 18-19, before the Dhar native closed out the game.

A disappointed Kashyap, livid with himself for letting that opening game go, was left with no alternative but to put everything he had into the second game, in order to extend the tussle to a decider. He took an early 7-3 lead, went into the mid-game break at 11-7, and galloped away to 16-10 and 19-11 before restoring parity.

Normally, such a supreme effort would have drained the older man’s resources, particularly in view of the numerous injuries he has suffered in the recent past, and the amount of time he has spent on the sidelines while recuperating from the setbacks. He did trail his Gopichand Academy batchmate 0-4 and 4-9, but then made a monumental effort to neutralise the advantage at 11-all.

That was as far as he was allowed to go. The fitter Sourabh began to score in all the longer rallies, and moved to 14-11 and 18-12 before administering the coup-de-grace. Just how close the encounter actually was could be seen from the final match statistics — total points played: 110, total points won: 55 each! It is just that Sourabh won the points that mattered.

The Prannoy-Wei Nan pre-quarter-final was just as close, though the Indian made sure he was not stretched to a third game. After the match being at level pegging initially, the World No 17 broke away to a 9-5 lead, but the Hong Kong player won eight of the next nine points to wrest back the initiative at 13-10. Prannoy returned the favour by registering five consecutive points to go from 10-13 to 15-13. The players were locked at 16-all, and Wei Nan actually went ahead 18-17 before the Indian took the final four points.

Wei Nan dominated the first half of the second game, taking leads of 8-4 and 11-9 into lemon time. But Prannoy upped the ante, and came level at 12-all. Point by point, the two fought implacably until 16-all, when the Indian made a big push for 18-16, and then match-point at 20-18. Try as he might, the Hong Kong player could not prevent the Indian from bagging the vital winning point at 20-19.

On Friday, Prannoy cannot afford to take matters lightly when he crosses swords with Chinese Taipei’s 11th seeded Lin Yu Hsien, who has had a serene run through to the quarter-finals. The Taiwanese player had an impressive 21-16, 21-14 opening win against China’s Lu Guangzu, sailed through untroubled at 21-9, 21-8 against India’s Sahil Sipani, and then sidelined Erik Meijs of the Netherlands 21-16, 21-12 in the pre-quarter-finals.

The 25-year-old Kaohsiung native has been on the world tournament circuit for close to seven years, and is currently playing his best badminton, having climbed to a career-high rank of 48. Extremely fit, Yu Hsien is one of the few players on the circuit, in this age of super-specialisation, to play singles, doubles and mixed doubles, although his ranking in the paired events is nothing to write home about.

The two antagonists have played one previous encounter — at the Macau Open in November 2014, when Prannoy had emerged the winner in three close games, making a spirited comeback after losing the opening stanza. Age-wise, neither has a clear advantage — the two are separated by 10 months, with Prannoy having completed 25 years last month, and Yu Hsien scheduled to turn 26 next month.

Nor is Sourabh likely to have an easy outing against Hong Kong’s unseeded Lee Cheuk Yiu, who has already scalped two seeded players on his way to the last-eight stage. On Thursday, he handed 13th seeded Misha Zilberman of Israel a comprehensive 21-10, 21-12 thrashing in exactly half an hour.

The sprightly 20-year-old Cheuk Yiu, who is one of a bright young crop of Hong Kong players that have been making waves on the international scene in recent times, made light of his 88th ranking as he notched a runaway triumph over the World No 51 Israeli. His risky, all-action style of play had earlier bamboozled third-seeded Jonatan Christie of Indonesia, as the 21-17, 21-13 second-round scores showed.

However, what would tip the scales in the 37th ranked Sourabh’s favour are his qualities of fitness and steadiness, and greater experience. He would also be buoyed by the knowledge that Cheuk Yiu had been forced to taste defeat at the hands of fellow Indian Siril Verma at the Hanoi International Challenge in June 2016, although it must be conceded that the Hong Kong player has shown much improvement in the year since that reverse in Vietnam.


Published Date: Aug 04, 2017 01:40 pm | Updated Date: Aug 04, 2017 01:40 pm


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