Normal service was restored on the second day of the 2017 New Zealand Grand Prix Gold badminton championships with fancied players in all five events motoring along nicely, and settling down for the long haul in the $120,000 prize-money competition.
After the shock of losing the men’s singles second seed, Ajay Jayaram, on the very first day of competition, the grand prix gold-level tournament moved into a more predictable pattern on Wednesday, with ranked players in both the men’s and women’s singles progressing to the pre-quarter-final stage without mishap.
The four surviving Indian men’s seeds — HS Prannoy (seeded No 4), Sourabh Verma (No 7), Parupalli Kashyap (No 15) and Siril Verma (No 16) — moved through their second round matches with workmanlike ease, though US Open champion Prannoy, seeking back-to-back titles in Auckland, was kept on court for 53 minutes before he could tame Indonesia’s Firman Abdul Kholik by a 23-21, 21-18 verdict.
The Kerala-born ace kept his cool to make up an 18-20 deficit in the first game against the 19-year-old Indonesian, placed just outside the top 100 in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings. Prannoy revealed that experience makes all the difference, when he floored the gas pedal from a 15-all situation in the second game, to take six of the final nine points, and record a straight-game triumph.
In two other India-Indonesia battles where the Indians held the upper-hand throughout the contests, Sourabh went through with a reasonable 21-16, 21-16 scoreline over 28 minutes against Henrikho Kho Wibowo, while the other Verma, Siril, took eleven minutes longer to tame Saputra Vicky Angga at 21-14, 21-16.
Siril will no doubt have his hands full on Thursday when he takes on the unseeded Taiwanese, Chia Hung Lu, who had tarnished the reputation of second-seeded Jayaram on the opening day of the competition. Chia was almost contemptuous in his summary dismissal of Kiwi qualifier Tony Fang, recording a one-sided 21-9, 21-4 win in a mere 20 minutes.
Veteran Kashyap, who appears to have struck a rich vein of form barely a week before his 31st birthday on 9th August, was utterly ruthless in a 25-minute 21-9, 21-8 demolition of China-born New Zealander Oscar Guo.
Agreed that the 16-year-old Kiwi, almost exactly half Kashyap’s age, sits at only the 701st spot in the BWF rankings, while the Indian has climbed from the 59th rung last week to 47th. Still, Kashyap has spent a total of just 47 minutes on court in his opening two rounds in Auckland, after thrashing the dangerous Indonesian, Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka, in a mere 22 minutes in his lung-opener in the tournament. The Hyderabadi will no doubt have his hands full while crossing swords on Thursday with teammate and sparring partner, Sourabh Verma, at the last-16 stage.
The smooth-striding Indian juggernaut, however, stumbled in the course of the first-ever encounter between two 22 year olds, one of them seeded at the apex of the draw. Pratul Joshi, currently graded 103rd in the world after an injury-induced drop from a career-high rank of 66 in March this year, tested top seeded Chinese Taipei star, Tzu Wei Wang, before capitulating 13-21, 22-24.
The Indian matched the World No 12 stroke for stroke in the first half of the opening game, but lost his concentration and accuracy from a 12-all situation, and ceded the game meekly. It was a ding-dong battle in the second stanza as no more than a couple of points separated the rivals until Joshi held game-point at 20-19, and again at 21-20. The Taiwanese was distinctly fortunate to grab four of the final five points to breast the tape at the end of the entertaining 48-minute clash.
Among the other Indian players, Neeraj Vashist came to grief at the hands of Australia’s Anthony Joe by a 16-21, 13-21 scoreline, while Sahil Sipani failed to trouble eleventh-seeded Lin Yu Hsien of Chinese Taipei, going down tamely at 9-21, 8-21.
The only Indian entry in the women’s doubles, Sanyogita Ghorpade and Prajakta Sawant waged a heartwarming battle against the fourth-seeded Japanese combination of Ayako Sakuramoto and Yukiko Takahata before going down at 15-21, 18-21. They will no doubt improve with more international exposure.
The sole Indian challenge in the men’s doubles, Sipani and Jagadish Yadav, did not trouble Malaysians Nur Mohammed Azriyn Ayub and Ooi Zi Heng, surrendering at 12-21, 16-21, in an error-strewn match that lasted just 22 minutes.
In Thursday’s Round of 16 clashes, all attention will be focused on Prannoy as he attempts to emulate the feats of B Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth, of winning two successive international tournaments. The Indian will take on the No 11 seed from Hong Kong, Wei Nan, who recently became the fourth player from his country to qualify for the prestigious World Championships at Glasgow, later this month.
At 6’ 2”, not only is the 33-year-old Wei Nan among the tallest Chinese players, he is also one of the oldest players on the circuit, ranking in age alongside such illustrious contemporaries as Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei (34) and China’s legendary five-time world champion Lin Dan (33). Although he is currently ranked 44th, he was consistently among the top 20 through the years 2014 to 2016.
The fact that Wei Nan is still sharp and physically fit could be seen from the fact that he notched up two tough three-game victories in his opening two matches in the New Zealand Open — against Chen Chun Wei of Taiwan, and Goh Giap Chin of Malaysia. In both jousts, he came back strongly after losing the opening game, showing that he has both the stomach and the lung power for a fight.
Indeed, Prannoy will not have matters all his own way against this wily Hong Kong star.
Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 12:48:38 IST