The sustained efforts that Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo has been putting into the physical training regimen of India’s elite players practising at Hyderabad’s Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy could be seen at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Wednesday, when Kidambi Srikanth handed China’s Tian Houwei a resounding 21-15, 12-21, 21-11 thrashing in an hour and four minutes, in his opening outing of the Japan Open Superseries badminton championships.
In the process, the 24-year-old Srikanth, who occupies the 8th spot in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, improved a miserable 1-6 earlier record in career meetings with Tian, one year older than the Indian, and ranked two places lower.
It is also significant that Srikanth has won two of their three most recent meetings, the aberration being a defeat by a wafer-thin margin of 22-24 in the decider of their clash at the 2016 India Open.
Meanwhile, HS Prannoy was seen at his best as he pulverised the exciting 20-year-old Dane, Anders Antonsen, at 21-12, 21-14, in a mere 36 minutes. Prannoy, who sits on the 18th rung of the BWF ladder, cocked a snook at the 15th ranking of Antonsen, who is being hailed in Scandinavia as a serious talent, capable of winning the world championship in the future.
The youthful Dane could do little against the speed of foot and iron length of stroke displayed by the 25-year-old Indian. Prannoy has always been a steady player, but Handoyo’s tweaked fitness regimen has made the Kerala-born shuttler swifter on his feet and given him the ability to take in his stride the rigours of a lengthy match.
Prannoy and Srikanth’s compatriot, B Sai Praneeth, battled for a much longer period than his regular sparring-partners at the Gopichand Academy–for an hour and 25 minutes–before he was shown the exit door by South Korea’s Lee Dong Keun with a 23-21, 17-21, 14-21verdict.
The 25-year-old Praneeth, who had won the Singapore Open Superseries and the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold titles earlier in the season, had the mortification of falling 1-2 behind in his head-to-head career record against Lee, after having thrashed the Korean, one year his senior in age, by a runaway 21-6, 21-8 margin at the Singapore Open, barely five months back.
Even reigning Indian national champion Sourabh Verma, another Handoyo trainee, gave an excellent account of himself when he fully stretched five-time former world champion and twice Olympic gold medalist Lin Dan of China, before bowing out of the $325,000 prize money tournament with a 21-11, 15-21, 13-21 defeat.
Conceding a massive lead of 11-3 to the legendary Chinese left-hander at the changeover point in the deciding game of their 50-minute duel cost Verma dear in the endgame. Both players garnered 10 points each in the second half of the decider, but that initial burst against the relatively inexperienced Sourabh stood the wily Lin in good stead.
“I was caught unawares by his sudden change of tactics and fast pace in the first half of the decider,” Sourabh said later. “I was able to stay with him in the second half of the third game, but that huge initial lead cost me the match.”
It must have been equally heartening for India’s national doubles coach, Malaysian Tan Kim Her, to witness the manner in which the hard-hitting 17-year-old, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, advanced in the tournament in the company of 27-year-old Ashwini Ponnappa, by knocking out Thailand’s Tinn Isriyanet and Pacharapun Chochuwong at 21-17, 21-13 in their first round mixed doubles match of the main draw.
One must laud the fitness levels of the teenager, who had played an exhausting schedule in the qualifying rounds on Tuesday, winning two matches each in the men’s and mixed doubles. Rankireddy and Ponnappa had beaten Japan’s Hiroki Midorikawa and Natsu Saito in the morning by a 21-13, 21-15 scoreline, and subsequently accounted for another local pair, Hiroki Okamura and Naru Shinoya with a 21-18, 21-9 scoreline.
Later in the day, the husky Andhra youngster had combined with Chirag Shetty to put two more Japanese pairs to the sword in the men’s doubles qualifying rounds: Hirokatsu Hashimoto and Hiroyuki Saeki, in a long-drawn match that finished one minute shy of the hour mark, at 14-21, 22-20, 21-18; and later, Keiichiro Matsui and Yoshinori Takeuchi at 21-18, 21-12.
In other words, after playing nine games and stayed out on court for a total of two hours and 25 minutes against pairs of international class, Rankireddy was forced to put in an appearance on court at 9.30 am (6 am Indian time) on Wednesday, to play his opening round in the main men’s doubles draw. That he and Ponnappa were able to finish the match against the Thais, Isriyanet and Chochuwong, by the short route speaks volumes for the teenager’s fitness.
It would come as a major surprise if Rankireddy and Shetty were to pull off an upset in their opening main-draw match against the formidable third-seeded Indonesian pairing of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, who had been ranked World No 1 for several weeks earlier this year. The two face off later in the day on Wednesday; and even stretching the Indonesians to three games would be a feather in the cap of the young Indians, and a tribute to coach Tan’s efforts.
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Updated Date: Sep 20, 2017 14:16:35 IST