Rankings and reputation simply went out of the window on Thursday as the $1 million prize money Indonesia Open Super Series Premier badminton championships continued to reel under the shock of top-ranked players being shown the exit door of the Jakarta Convention Centre by rank outsiders.
India’s 24-year-old HS Prannoy, ranked 29th on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder, played the game of his life, employing unbridled aggression to ensure that top-seeded Lee Chong Wei did not benefit much from his narrow reprieve of the previous day, when the Malaysian had edged out Tommy Sugiarto of the host nation after an 18-all deadlock in the deciding game of their first round encounter.
Prannoy handed out a comprehensive 21-10, 21-18 thrashing to the three-time Olympic silver medallist in a matter of 40 breathtaking minutes during which he played like a man possessed. He was joined in the men’s singles quarter-finals by his Pullela Gopichand Academy batchmate, Kidambi Srikanth, who repeated his Rio Olympics victory over Denmark’s fourth-seeded Jan O Jorgensen with a 21-15, 20-22, 21-16 verdict in three minutes under the hour.
For once, the Indian male shuttlers outperformed their female counterparts, who had always been to the forefront in earlier international events. Prannoy and Srikanth watched in dismay as the Indian challenge in the women’s singles sputtered into extinction with the unexpected eclipse of fourth-seeded PV Sindhu and the unseeded Saina Nehwal, who had defeated eighth-seeded Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand the previous day.
Sindhu went down by a 21-15, 12-21, 18-21 scoreline to American Zhang Beiwen, failing to put the finishing touches on the decider after she had made up a 15-17 deficit in the decider to lock the scores at 18-all. Saina bowed out at 15-21, 21-6, 16-21 to the third string in Thailand’s bow, Nitchaon Jindapol, to whom she had never lost in seven earlier meetings, and whom she totally overpowered in the middle game of their second-round meeting at this premier tournament.
Thursday, 15 June, will be a day forever etched in Prannoy’s memory. Chong Wei, the defending champion at this premier tournament, appeared totally unprepared for the sustained onslaught of the Indian, who stepped on the court breathing fire, and never held back the crackle of flames from his nostrils.
Prannoy barreled to an early 6-0 lead in the opening game even before the skeletal-looking but supremely fit Malaysian had found his bearings, and never relinquished that advantage. The Indian remained on the attack, not just with power-packed smashes on both flanks, but also through late flick clears and attacking tosses that had Chong Wei on the run throughout, and struggling to make an impression on the match. By 7-17, the No 1 seed had given up the ghost of the first game.
The battle was much tighter in the second game, but the Indian remained ahead by a point or two until he seemed to have the match in his pocket at 17-14. But the 34-year-old Malaysian pulled out all stops to neutralise the lead, and threatened to take the match to a decider. It is to Prannoy’s credit that he did not let his concentration or aggression flag, and authoritatively closed out the match.
The defeat should have been a hard pill for the six-time Indonesia Open winner — in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016 — to swallow, for it was his first loss to Prannoy in three meetings. However, gallant shuttler that he is, Chong Wei accepted the defeat graciously and showered praise on his 24-year-old rival.
“Prannoy was on fire; he played confidently. I saw his first-round match (against Indonesian Anthony Sinisuka Ginting) and he put up a really top-notch performance,” the Malaysian is reported to have told his country’s newspaper, ‘The Star’. “Unfortunately, it was just one of my off days. I didn’t have the rhythm and made so many mistakes. I can’t be winning all the time. Sometimes I play poorly too.”
Malaysia’s national coach Hendrawan attributed the 34-year-old Chong Wei’s loss to his “lacking the speed to counter an aggressive Prannoy”.
“All credit to Prannoy for putting up a good show. Chong Wei was slower than usual and that gave his opponent the room to take charge of the game,” said Hendrawan. “Chong Wei also had fewer chances to attack. We accept this defeat, but we’ll remain positive ahead of his preparation for the World Champion¬ships (in Glasgow, from 21 to 27 August).”
Chong Wei’s exit from the Indonesia Open on Thursday meant that the top seeds in three of the five events had been eliminated before the quarter-final stage. The men’s doubles pairing of Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon of Indonesia, and the women’s doubles combination of Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo had gone out in their opening outings on Wednesday itself.
Only four of the eight seeds in the men’s singles remain in the fray, following the second-round ousters of fourth-seeded Jorgensen by Srikanth, and of fifth-seeded Shi Yuqi of China at 12-21, 15-21 by the durable Englishman Rajiv Ouseph; and the 12-21, 21-12, 17-21 upset of third-seeded Viktor Axelsen by his Danish compatriot, Emil Holst, who had only made the main draw after coming up through the qualifying rounds.
This avalanche of upsets must be considered a rare occurrence in a Super Series Premier event, in which virtually every player eligible to participate has thrown his or her hat into the ring. It has put the onus of defending the favourites’ tag squarely on Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying in the women’s singles, and the Chinese mixed doubles combination of Zheng Siwei and Chen Qingchen. Of the two, the Taiwanese girl appears most likely to end up on the winners’ rostrum.
Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 13:22 PM