PBL 2020: 18-year-old Priyanshu Rajawat displays unique deceptive strokeplay in win against Lee Dong Keun
As Priyanshu played the first couple of points of his match against Lee, the supple wrists at the net, the nimble footwork and the most of all, the deception left most in a state of awe over his effortless craft
18-year-old Priyanshu Rajawat beat World No 50 Lee Dong Keun 15-11, 15-9
On the BWF World Tour, Priyanshu Rajawat still competes in junior-level tournaments
Before beating Lee, Priyanshu had played just one match this season, where he lost to Lakshya Sen of Chennai Superstarz
Hyderabad: The half-smash off the backhand zipped over the net and landed smack on the tramline, evoking a sigh from the crowd.
It was a thing of beauty from Priyanshu Rajawat of Hyderabad Hunters, and even his opponent Lee Dong Keun of Mumbai Rockets couldn’t help but stare at the stationary shuttle, admiring the shot.
It was that kind of a day for Priyanshu where no one dared question his talent or temperament despite the numerous errors he committed. As so routinely happens with budding sportspersons, people doubt their potential and wonder if they belong on the big stage. In Priyanshu’s case though, everything seems crystal clear. The 18-year-old has arrived and is one of the finds of the Premier Badminton League 2020 (PBL).
What prompted this realisation amongst the scores of fans who had thronged the GMC Balayogi Indoor Stadium on Sunday was some brilliant strokeplay from Priyanshu in his men’s singles match against World No 49 Lee Dong Keun. Strokes of the kind one expects from Tai Tzu Ying or were once the domain of Danish great Peter Gade.
Indian shuttlers have never been big on deceptive stroke-play. From Kidambi Srikanth’s pin-point precision to Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu’s brute force, the well-disguised stroke hasn’t found many takers here.
Even Priyanshu’s contemporary from his BWF World Junior Championship days, Lakshya Sen, finds pleasure in hitting the booming bodyline smashes.
Priyanshu, however, has built a game where each shot has a lingering grace about it. So his smashes are as eye-catching as the stroke used to fend a smash.
On Sunday, all of that was on display as Priyanshu played only his second match in the PBL thus far, having lost the first in three games against Lakshya Sen of Chennai Superstarz, during the Chennai leg of the PBL.
After Sourabh Verma’s woeful form which has brought him three losses from four matches in the league, Priyanshu was an obvious pick for Hyderabad Hunters for their dead rubber against the Mumbai Rockets.
With the team virtually out of the race for the semi-finals, perhaps the management felt liberated enough to test the bench-strength and let Priyanshu stake his claim for a permanent spot in the line-up – he was also picked last season but didn’t get a game.
And Priyanshu didn’t disappoint.
As he played the first couple of points of his match against Lee, the supple wrists at the net, the nimble footwork and most of all, the deception left most in a state of awe over Priyanshu’s effortless craft.
When most expected him to go down the line with a jump smash, Priyanshu opted for the loopy cross-court drop, having Lee dive to retrieve the shuttle.
The rallies would fester but Priyanshu never let up. He would keep up with the exchange, have his opponent move back and forth and lure him into hitting a hurried smash, only to return it with the utmost precision.
On occasion, Priyanshu would hold his position while watching the shuttle go over the net. The photographers then captured his follow-through.
As the teenager, who hails from Dhar in Madhya Pradesh, won the first game 15-13, there was pandemonium, building up to a crescendo generally witnessed during PV Sindhu’s victories.
Priyanshu bettered his performance in the second game. He displayed remarkable composure while dictating the rallies, not going for the early winner but building up the rally for the final flourish.
Often, Priyanshu would set up his opponent with a down the line smash, not as speedy as that of his contemporaries but placed to perfection.
That smash would draw out the tame return, leaving Priyanshu to only swat the shuttle on the follow-up stroke.
At the mid-game interval in the second game, Priyanshu led 8-5.
Any hopes of Lee Dong Keun forcing a decider by winning the second game were dashed by the teenager who closed out the match 15-13, 15-9, helping his team secure a crucial point.
That feeling when you defeat a higher ranked shuttler! 💪
— PBL India (@PBLIndiaLive) February 2, 2020
In celebration, Priyanshu let his limbs fly helter-skelter, a far cry from the ordered grace that was much of his game. The crowd cheered and the Hyderabad dugout was on its feet applauding the boy wonder.
Further, the Hunters’ shuttler proved that he is far better than his lowly world ranking of 284 would suggest. His opponent on Sunday, World No 49 Lee Dong Keun would grudgingly attest to the same.
Priyanshu's success rubbed off on his teammates, as the mixed doubles duo of Vladimir Ivanov and N Sikki Reddy won the deciding match 2-0 to win the tie against the Mumbai Rockets 4-3.
At the post-match presentation, Priyanshu spoke about channelising his frustration of not being picked, on the court against Lee. “I had played a good match against Chennai but was sitting on the bench for a long time since. It was difficult but I knew I would get another chance this season.”
“I was confident about what I could do and the crowd only helped me execute my skills,” Priyanshu signed off to rousing applause from the Hyderabad crowd.
Axelsen returned a first positive test after beating Finn Kalle Koljonen in the semi-finals on Saturday and must isolate in Kiev. He was to face fellow Dane Anders Antonsen, who claimed his first European title with a walkover.
Tokyo Olympics 2020: Indian shuttlers hoping to qualify for Games likely to travel to Malaysia via Qatar, says BAI
Just two more Olympic qualifiers are remaining – Malaysia Open (25-30 May) and Singapore Open (1-6 June) – before the 15 June deadline and things look grim for Saina and Srikanth with Malaysia and Singapore deciding to temporarily impose travel bans from COVID-ravaged India.
"All attempts were made by the organisers and BWF to provide a safe tournament environment for all participants, but the recent surge in cases left no choice but to postpone the tournament," Badminton World Federation said in a statement.