Old Indian war-horse Parupalli Kashyap made a significant statement at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur Sports City on Wednesday, the opening day of the Malaysia Masters World Tour Super 500 badminton championships.
Having gone through the grind of playing through two qualifying rounds on Tuesday to get into the main draw of the men’s singles, the 32 year old Kashyap, who sits on the 45th rung of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder, revealed excellent courtcraft and exceptional fitness in lowering the colours of Denmark’s Rasmus Gemke, a full decade younger than him, and ranked 25 places above him.
Kashyap’s hard-earned triumph, by a 19-21, 21-19, 21-10 scoreline in eight minutes over the hour mark, came less than 24 hours after he had worked his way through two qualifying-round matches on Tuesday – against Frenchman Lucas Claerbout, by a 21-14, 21-19 margin, and Russian Vladimir Malkov at 21-12, 21-17.
The 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist’s twin successes in the preliminary rounds had come even as other Indian singles aspirants had fallen around him like ninepins. Subhankar Dey had been eliminated by Thailand’s hard-hitting southpaw, Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, at 18-21, 13-21; Mugdha Agrey had bowed to Swiss Miss Sabrina Jaquet after a stirring battle at 17-21, 21-18, 19-21; and Rituparna Das had gone down fighting to Indonesia’s Ruselli Hartawan at 13-21, 24-26.
On Wednesday, Kashyap was able to firmly put behind him the straight-games loss he had suffered at Gemke’s hands at last year’s Orleans Masters, that had taken their career head-to-head record to 1-1. The Indian blew 14-10 and 19-17 leads in the opening game to allow the lanky Dane to steal the game from him at the tape.
Kashyap almost did an encore in the second stanza, roaring to a 20-13 lead, and then allowing his opponent to pull back six points on the trot. But once the Indian had opened up a 10-5 lead in the decider, he piled on the pressure, cut out the errors, and finished a comfortable winner, as Gemke ran out of gas.
The Indian veteran will cross swords on the morrow with Indonesia’s sixth-seeded Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, who outlasted Thailand’s Khosit Phetpradab at 18-21, 21-9, 21-10. Kashyap is at the receiving end of a 0-2 win-loss record against the 22 year old Indonesian, having last lost to Ginting in two easy games at the Hong Kong Open in November 2018. He will need to slow down the game against the speedy Ginting, if he hopes to progress further in the $350,000 prize money tournament.
Other Indians in the thick of things on Wednesday included two players who have been given the seventh seeding in their respective events at the Malaysia Masters – Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal. The former was all business as he cut down the dangerous Hong Kong player, Ng Ka Long Angus by a 21-17, 21-11 verdict in exactly half an hour. Saina struggled in the first game, but ultimately knocked out another Hong Kong player, Deng Joy Xuan, at 14-21, 21-18, 21-18.
Saina inexplicably fell away after going neck-and-neck with Deng until 10-all in the opening game. Nor did she have it her way in the second, when the Hong Kong player kept pace with her right through the game, not letting more than a point or two separate them. Saina looked in real trouble when Deng closed the gap to 18-19, but used all her rich experience to wrest the game without further ado.
The 28 year old Indian was in total command in the decider, and looked like running out an easy winner when she held a massive 19-12 advantage. However, four errors on her part, and a couple of smash winners from Deng, closed the gap to 18-19. As in the second game, Saina steadied herself just in time, to close out the match, and qualify to meet another Hong Kong player, Yip Pui Yin, in the second round.
Yip made the grade with an equally narrow 19-21, 21-18, 21-17 victory over Indonesia’s Ruselli Hartawan, who had come through the qualifying rounds to earn a spot for herself in the main draw. It is unlikely that Saina will lose much sleep before her Thursday duel with the Hong Kong player, whom she leads 8-2 in career head-to-heads, including wins in their last seven jousts.
As for Srikanth, the Guntur lad had little trouble against Angus, who initially kept pace with the Indian until 10-all in the opening game. But the Indian came back from the mid-game break, breathing fire and brimstone, and simply blew the Hong Kong player away with well placed smashes off the short returns. The Indian drew away after 14-11 in the second game, to win the tie without conceding a further point.
There will be yet another India-Hong Kong confrontation in the second round, with Srikanth running into Wong Wing Ki Vincent, who put Dutchman Mark Caljouw firmly in his place with a facile 21-13, 21-18 victory. Caljouw had been impressive in the initial rounds of the recently concluded Premier Badminton League (PBL), but found little joy with his hustling, all-action style against the canny Vincent Wong.
Srikanth, who was unbeaten in eight matches in the PBL, holds a comfortable 8-3 lead over Vincent in their career head-to-heads. The two players actually ran into each other five times in the course of 2018, and Srikanth emerged triumphant on four occasions, the only aberration being a 21-23, 19-21 loss in the individual event of the Asian Games in August. On the most recent occasion that the two clashed – at the Hong Kong Open in November – Srikanth simply smashed him off the court at 21-11, 21-15.
The only Indian representatives in the women’s doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy, expectedly got through their opening challenge at the Malaysia Masters, knocking out the Hong Kong duo of Ng Tsz Yau and Yuen Sin Ying by a 21-16, 22-20 margin. However, the Indians suffered through several anxious moments at 18-20 in the second game before closing it out with an unbroken four-point reel.
On Thursday, Ponnappa and Reddy could have their hands full when they take on the bubbly young Indonesians, Ni Ketut Mahadewi Istarani and Rizki Amelia Pradipta, who upset the No 6 seeds from Japan, Shiho Tanaka and Koharu Yonemoto, at 21-13, 19-21, 21-11 in an hour and three minutes of interminable rallies.
If the Indians get through this second round clash, they can expect a challenging encounter against the No 2 seeds from Japan, Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo, against whom they trail 0-6 in career meetings. Ponnappa and Reddy had taken the Japanese doubles experts to three games during their last clash at the Hong Kong Open, two months ago; and could hope to go one better this time.
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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2019 18:17:46 IST