No doubt there was an element of misfortune in HS Prannoy’s heartbreaking quarter-final loss to Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yu Hsien at the New Zealand Grand Prix Gold badminton championships, but the way the men’s singles semi-finals panned out on Saturday showed that the Indian had himself to blame for his 10-21, 22-20, 21-23 defeat on Friday.
The manner in which top-seeded Tzu Wei Wang handled Lin’s challenge in the penultimate round at Auckland’s North Shore Events Centre showed that the 22-year-old Taiwanese star’s steady rise to the 12th position in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings was by dint of sheer merit, and not on the back of a couple of fluky performances.
Tzu stayed on court for a mere 35 minutes as he handed his older training partner Lin a 21-11, 21-12 thrashing, a performance that propelled him into Sunday’s final against Hong Kong’s unranked Lee Cheuk Yiu, a 21-12, 21-19 victor over a third Taiwanese player in the last four, sixth-seeded Hsu Jen Hao.
The fourth-seeded Prannoy’s biggest mistake against the 11th ranked Lin was his massive lapse in concentration in the opening game after the mid-game interval. While it had been level pegging in the first half of the opening game, leaving the Indian trailing by a solitary point at 10-11, there was simply no resistance in the face of Lin’s onslaught, and the next 10 points were conceded in a flash.
Any player who has played the earlier 15-point format that only allowed points on a player’s serve, and the 21-point format that awards a point for every rally, will concede that it is extremely difficult to notch up an unbroken 10-point reel in the revised format, particularly between two players of equal calibre.
Among the main characteristics of Prannoy’s game are his steadiness and accuracy. His lapse in the second half of the first game was, thus, unpardonable, as were his fragile nerves in the closing reaches of the decider, when he had a total of four match-points to close out the quarter-final clash.
A second such loss in seven weeks, following his defeat against Japan’s Kazumasa Sakai in the Indonesia Super Series Premier after holding four match-points, casts some doubt over his temperament, and places him in the same dubious bracket as compatriot PV Sindhu, who has also shown a propensity for failing to finish off a match when holding a potentially decisive lead.
The speedy and aggressive Tzu, on the other hand, simply did not give his fellow-countryman, ranked 48th in the world, a ghost of a chance to get a foot into the door. Of course, it is possible that he knows Lin’s game well, as the two practice together in the Taiwanese national camps.
There is also the possibility that Lin was a little stiff and slow on his feet after playing that 66-minute humdinger the previous day against Prannoy. The 25-year-old could not match his sparring partner’s dazzling pace, and was forced on the defensive for the greater part of the encounter.
Tzu led from start to finish in the first game, opening up 5-1, 11-3 and 18-9 leads, for a 21-11 verdict, before moving to the other side of the court. The No 1 seed trailed just once in the course of the entire match — at 0-1 in the second game. He recovered promptly to 4-1, enlarged the lead to 10-3 and 17-12 before bagging the final four points of the match without reply.
Now a raging hot favourite for the title, Tzu has not lost a single game in five outings thus far. The only match in which he was stretched to some extent was in the second round, when he quelled Indian Pratul Joshi’s challenge at 24-22 in the second game, after winning the first at 21-13.
Tzu’s rival in the summit clash, unconsidered giant-killer Lee Cheuk Yiu, has accounted for four seeded players on his way to the final. After knocking out India’s Siddharth Thakur in his lung-opener in the tournament, the Hong Kong player scalped Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie (seeded No 3), Israel’s Misha Zilberman (seeded 13th), India’s Sourabh Verma (No 7 seed) and Chinese Taipei’s Hsu Jen Hao (No 6 seed).
What has been most impressive about Lee’s performance is that he has matched top-seeded Tzu’s performance by beating all these higher ranked players in straight games. If one considers the fact that the Hong Kong player is currently sitting on the 88th berth of the BWF ladder, and has never been ranked higher than 63 (in March this year), his showing in the tournament becomes even more awe-inspiring.
Lee and Tzu have met twice in the past, and the tally is one-all. Whereas the Hong Kong player won in three tough games in the Thailand Open in October 2016, the Chinese Taipei star reversed the result exactly a month later, beating Lee in straight games in the Macau Open.
Thereafter, the two have headed in opposite directions in the BWF rankings. The Taiwanese has climbed steadily to his current 12th spot, while Lee has recorded sporadic victories against unexpected defeats, and been on something of a roller-coaster ride in the rankings.
One could speculate that the Hong Kong player’s terrific current form and amazing run in Auckland could conceivably end in ultimate glory on Sunday. But good sense dictates that it would be the fancied player who will likely come up trumps, and take home the stellar title in this $120,000 prize money Grand Prix Gold tournament.
Updated Date: Aug 06, 2017 12:02 PM