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New Zealand GPG: Ajay Jayaram’s shock first-round loss dents preparations for World Championships

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the move of Indian national coach Pullela Gopichand, of withdrawing his wards from all competition before the World Badminton Championships, scheduled to be held in Glasgow from 21 to 27 August. Any loss in the lead-up to this crucial competition in the 2017 badminton calendar can cause a huge dent in a player’s confidence.

Ajay Jayaram, who will be one of four Indians vying for top honours in the men’s singles draw at Glasgow, must have belatedly appreciated the value of Gopichand’s ploy of pulling out all his trainee singles and doubles players who have qualified to represent the country at the Worlds.

The list of those not permitted to play the New Zealand Open includes Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma, Saina Nehwal, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, Rituparna Das, Manu Attri and Sumeet Reddy, Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy, and Ashwini Ponnappa.

The stunning defeat that Jayaram, seeded No 2, suffered at the hands of the virtually unknown and unheralded Chinese Taipei player, Chia Hung Lu, must have really hurt the Indian. That the 20-year-old Taiwanese, ranked a lowly 122nd on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder, could hand the richly experienced 29-year-old Indian a 21-19, 21-13 thrashing, was the biggest shock on the opening day of the $120,000 prize money competition.

File photo of Ajay Jayaram. AFP

File photo of Ajay Jayaram. AFP

Jayaram chose to participate in a tournament that has lost much of its sheen as a consequence of the late withdrawal of a host of elite players headed for the Worlds – including Malaysia’s world No 2, Lee Chong Wei, originally named the top seed. Nor have any of the top 10 women, barring Thailand’s eighth ranked Ratchanok Intanon, entered the fray in Auckland.

The Chennai-born shuttler, currently ranked 16th in the world, is not a product of Gopichand’s Hyderabad-based academy, but trains in Bangalore with Tom John; and was hence not restrained by the national coach’s diktat. Perhaps the Chennai-born player felt that he could get valuable match practice in a second-tier tournament, shunned this year by all the big guns of the sport. Sadly, the plan bombed.

Jayaram was in contention only up to the half-way stage of the opening game, when no more than a solitary point separated the two antagonists. However, Chia piled on the pressure to leap to a 19-14 lead; and, though Jayaram reduced the margin to 19-20, the Taipei player would not be denied the game.

The second game followed a similar pattern to the first until 10-all, but thereafter, the Indian committed too many errors to allow Chia to simply run away with the match in a minute over the half-hour mark. It was the biggest victory of the Taiwanese youngster’s fledgling career.

Barring Jayaram’s surprise defeat, there were few shocks for Indian supporters as seven of the 11 Indians who bagged slots in the 64-player men’s singles main draw progressed to the second round. Those who made the grade included fancied stars HS Prannoy (seeded No 4), Sourabh Verma (seeded seventh), Parupalli Kashyap (the 15th seed) and Siril Verma (seeded 16th).

It must be noted that none of these four Indian players were able to make the cut for the World Championships. The BWF rules allow a maximum of four players or four pairs, as per international rankings, from any country into the draws at Glasgow; and India is one of only four nations — the others being China, Denmark and Hong Kong — to get the full representation of four in the men’s singles. The country achieved this feat in the women’s singles as well, with Rituparna Das and Tanvi Lad belatedly making the grade, along with Saina and Sindhu.

The 25-year-old Prannoy, seeking to become the third Indian, after Praneeth and Srikanth, to win back-to-back international tournaments this year, won handily by a 21-14, 21-16 scoreline against Indonesia’s 23-year-old Shesar Hiren Rhustavito, ranked No 104 in the world. He runs into another Indonesian, Firman Abdul Kholik, in the second round on Wednesday.

Similarly, Sourabh played well within himself while subduing Australia’s Nathan Tang at 21-17, 21-15; and next takes on Indonesian Henrikho Kho Wibowo. Siril Verma was even more impressive while settling the pretensions of Indonesian Riyanto Subagja by a 21-13, 21-12 verdict in three minutes inside the half-hour mark. His next opponent is yet another Indonesian, Saputra Vicky Angga.

However, the most impressive Indian winner on the day was veteran Parupalli Kashyap, who had a potentially tricky outing against another Indonesian, Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka, who was consistently a top-20 player between 2010 and 2016, but has since tumbled in the rankings.

After falling below the 800th rank in late-2016, the injury-ravaged 29-year-old Rumbaka has clawed his way back to No 301, and could have presented a sterling challenge to his 31-year-old rival. But the Indonesian could keep Kashyap on court for a mere 22 minutes, going down without a whimper at 5-21, 10-21. The wily Indian should not be unduly stretched on Wednesday by China-born Australian, Oscar Guo.

There were equally easy triumphs for Sahil Sipani, who knocked out Australian Joshua Feng at 21-10, 21-10; Pratul Joshi, who sidelined another Australian, Daxxon Vong, at 21-10, 21-13; and Neeraj Vashist, who eliminated Indonesia’s Androw Yunanto at 21-8, 21-9.

The first two Indians run into seeded Chinese Taipei players next — Sipani crosses swords with No 11 seed, Lin Yu Hsien, while Joshi has the tough task of facing the 22-year-old top seed, Tzu Wei Wang, ranked No 12 on the BWF ladder. Nor does 24-year-old Vashist, ranked 364 in the BWF rankings, have a facile outing — he faces 21-year-old Australian Anthony Joe, ranked 163 places above him, at No 201.

Sipani and his partner Jagadish Yadav present the sole Indian challenge in the men’s doubles, even as Sanyogita Ghorpade and Prajakta Sawant form the solitary Indian entry in the women’s doubles. While the country goes unrepresented in the women’s singles, Prajakta has teamed up with her Malaysian partner, Yogendran Khrishnan in the mixed doubles, where they have been seeded fourth.

Updated Date: Aug 02, 2017 09:31 AM

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