Haseena Sunilkumar Prannoy heralded his return to the international badminton circuit in great style, with an emphatic 21-13, 21-18 triumph on Wednesday over Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, sidelining the bustling Indonesian in front of the latter’s home crowds at the Jakarta Convention Centre and making the pre-quarter-final round of the $1 million prize money Indonesia Open Super Series Premier tournament.
The bearded 24-year-old India – ranked 29th on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder – was playing his first premier tournament after a prolonged injury lay-off, and was full value for his success against a player three years younger and ranked nine places above him.
The short-statured Ginting had been the toast of his nation as recently as last month, with an impressive three-game victory over world No 2, Viktor Axelsen, that had enabled Indonesia to beat Denmark 3-2 in their Sudirman Cup mixed team group encounter. But Prannoy remained in control of the lion’s share of the rallies and was able to play the speedy Ginting swiftly. His exquisite control over the length of his tosses and clears was a big factor in his win.
Prannoy was joined in the second round by his Gopichand Academy sparring partner, Kidambi Srikanth, who displayed distinctly improved stamina and poise, in comparison with his showing in earlier competitions this year, while overcoming Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki Vincent 21-15, 17-21, 21-16.
Srikanth, ranked 14th in the world, shrugged off not just the long-term after-effects of an ankle injury, but also his inferior head-to-head record against the 11th-ranked Vincent. The two had met on three occasions earlier; and the Hong Kong shuttler held a 2-1 lead, including a win in their most recent clash at the 2016 Korea Open last September, shortly after the Rio Olympics.
The Indian ace next takes on Denmark’s fourth-seeded Jan O Jorgensen, who won handily on Wednesday at 21-16, 21-18 against Frenchman Brice Leverdez. Srikanth and Jorgensen have met twice earlier, and the score stands at 1-1, with the Indian winning their encounter at the 2013 India Open, while the Dane levelled career meeting scores with triumph at the 2014 year-ending Dubai Super Series Finals. The two have not bumped into each other over the past 30 months.
The third Indian in the men’s singles mix, Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth, was unable to emulate the sterling example of his compatriots, of conquering players ranked higher than them in the BWF pecking order. Praneeth found his 11-match winning streak over two tournaments snapped, as he went down to the freshly installed world No 1 Son Wan Ho, by a 14-21, 18-21 margin in a 40-minute clash that the second-seeded Korean had under control for the most part.
Also, a little short of luck was the Indian women’s doubles pairing of Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy, who could have won their lung-opener in straight games, but faded badly in the third stanza, to bow to the none-too-strong Indonesian combination of Dian Fitriani and Nadya Melati at 21-19, 19-21, 13-21, in two minutes over the hour.
The 24-year-old Fitriani is ranked a lowly 58th in the world in the company of the 30-year-old Melati, whereas Ashwini and Sikki Reddy’s 28th ranking had made them firm favourites to win their first round match in a tournament that has been witness to upsets galore even before the half-way stage.
Indeed, Wednesday was a disastrous day for top seeds, with two of them in the paired events biting the dust, and one coming within three points of elimination. Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, who straddles the men’s singles seedings in this tournament, was hard-pressed to defend that exalted ranking by former world championship bronze medallist, Tommy Sugiarto of the host nation. The two were locked at 18-all in the third game of their desperately close encounter, as the clock ticked over the one-hour mark.
However, the 34-year-old Chong Wei, who has slipped to the third spot behind Son Wan Ho and Viktor Axelsen in the latest BWF rankings, pulled out all stops and finally stormed through the inspired Indonesian’s doughty defence that had stood him in such good stead throughout the joust. The three-time Olympic silver medallist won 13-21, 21-10, 21-18, to record his 15th successive win against Sugiarto without reply. The Malaysian runs into India’s Prannoy in his next outing on Thursday.
The No 1 seeds in both the men’s and women’s doubles were not lucky enough to escape the carnage as Chong Wei had, and bit the dust in the first two morning matches of the day’s lengthy programme.
Playing side by side on two of the three courts employed for the opening round matches in the main draw, the crack Indonesian pairing of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, and the equally illustrious Japanese combination of Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo bit the dust with nary a whimper.
It was clear that the top-ranked Indonesians suffered from a serious bout of stage fright as they took on unseeded Danes, Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen, and capitulated within 34 minutes by a 16-21, 16-21 scoreline. It was the tamest performance conceivable, with the title favourites being at sixes and sevens throughout, and hardly indulging in the wily fast drops and unexpected, adventurous forays to the net that they are known, and feared, for.
Just ten minutes later, the much decorated, top-seeded Japanese pair of Takahashi and Matsutomo exited the women’s doubles, having been shown the door by a 21-7, 22-20 margin by the newly formed Chinese pairing of Huang Yaqiong and Yu Xiaohan, who were playing together for the first time in a premier tournament.
The 23-year-old Yaqiong is ranked second in the world in the mixed doubles, but only holds a No 22 rank in the women’s paired event, while her partner is ranked slightly higher at No 16. Yaqiong normally plays with Tang Jinhua, but appears to have been tried out with Xiaohan by the Chinese badminton bosses – with spectacular results.
The Chinese youngsters were all over the renowned Japanese pair, who appeared gobsmacked and played the 44-minute match as if they were enveloped in an impenetrable fog – to be treated with near-contempt by their rivals in the first game, and with only marginally more respect in the second.
The shocks did not end there. Two other serious men’s singles title contenders joined a motley crowd of acknowledged champions on the sidelines – the third and seventh seeds, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark and China’s five-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medal winner, Lin Dan, respectively.
Axelsen, installed recently as the world No 2, fought gamely for nearly an hour with fellow-Dane Emil Holst before being forced to concede defeat at 12-21, 21-12, 17-21, while the legendary Super Dan looked a pale shadow of his formidable self, as he bowed out to Chinese Taipei’s Tzu Wei Wang – ranked 23rd on the BWF ladder – by a 16-21, 18-21 scoreline in just 42 minutes, in what must be considered a most insipid performance.
On Thursday afternoon, the Indians left in the fray in the singles events will present their credentials for claiming quarter-final berths. Prannoy will clash with top-ranked Lee Chong Wei, while Srikanth takes on Jorgensen. Saina Nehwal will cross swords with Thailand’s Nitchaon Jindapol, while PV Sindhu will play an evening match against Chinese-American Zhang Beiwen. The Indian doubles teams will no doubt watch from the sidelines, and cheer on their compatriots in the arena.
Updated Date: Jun 15, 2017 10:38 AM