And then, there were two.
It all panned out according to the rules of inevitability in the old children’s game, “There were ten green bottles standing on the wall; If one green bottle should accidentally fall, There’d be nine green bottles standing on the wall…”
India, who launched their campaign in the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold badminton championship with a 43-strong contingent, were reduced to having just two of their most experienced campaigners still in the fray at the quarter-final stage, as every one of the other 41 were eliminated from the $120,000 prize money tournament by the end of Thursday’s play.
Second-seeded Saina Nehwal, who slid to a Badminton World Federation (BWF) ranking of 11, following her gradual recovery from a career-threatening knee injury at the 2016 Rio Olympics last August, slipped comfortably into the quarter-finals of the women’s singles with a dominating 21-11, 21-14 victory over 19-year-old Malaysian, Lee Ying Ying, who is ranked 52nd in the world.
The 27-year-old Indian ace did not trail at any stage of the 40-minute encounter with the Ipoh-born teenager, who did not lack for enthusiasm, and chased the shuttle with the same will she had shown while accounting for Indonesian Asty Dwi Widyaningrum in her opening outing.
The result left Saina all set to face Japanese giant-killer Haruko Suzuki, who came through the qualifying tournament, and took in her stride the No 8 seed from Germany, Fabienne Deprez, in three tough games, for her first challenge in the main draw.
The 26-year-old Suzuki, ranked a lowly 132nd in the world, went on to beat another qualifier, Thailand’s Supanida Katethong, 21-8, 17-21, 21-17, on Thursday. She has shown a propensity to run on the court till the cows come home. Nevertheless, the experienced world-beater that the Indian is, she should not be unduly troubled by a player, who is currently at her highest ranking in the past five years.
The only other Indian to join Saina in the last-eight of the singles events was third-seeded Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth, who was kept on court for 41 minutes, a minute longer than his fellow-countrywoman, by Malaysia’s No 9 seed, Iskandar Zulqarnain, before he could post a 21-13, 21-18 triumph. Praneeth’s steadiness and fitness stood him in good stead in the closing reaches of the match when matters got a little uncomfortable as the Malaysian made a do-or-die effort.
On Friday, Praneeth will clash with a dangerous Thai teenager, Kantaphon Wangcharoen, who made the last-eight grade by eliminating a second successive seeded player. Having pipped Hong Kong’s No 8 seed, Wei Nan, 23-21, 13-21, 23-21 in a humdinger of a second round encounter, the 18-year-old Thai, currently ranked just outside the top 100, beat Malaysia’s 13th seeded Wei Feng Chong 21-19, 21-8, in the pre-quarter-final on Thursday.
Those who had watched Kantaphon in his opening match of the tournament against India’s Arunkumar Ashok Kumar would have been impressed by his power, speed and quicksilver reflexes. Certainly, Praneeth is not likely to have matters all his own way against the Thai youngster, who will have the full-throated support of his home crowd at the Nimibutr Stadium.
The other Indian who was still alive in the men’s singles at the last-16 stage, the No.12 seed Sourabh Verma, gave fifth seeded Frenchman Brice Leverdez, a major scare, before capitulating 16-21, 25-23, 11-21. Unfortunately, the reigning Indian national champion was forced to deploy so many of his resources, both physical and emotional, into the nail-biting, must-win second game that he had nothing left in the tank for the decider.
As for the unexpected entrant into the women’s singles second round, Sai Uttejitha Rao Chukka, the young Indian was brought to heel, 21-15, 21-17 by Pattarasuda Chaiwan of the host nation. Sai Uttejitha, who had saved a clutch of match-points the previous day to put out Indonesian Jesica Muljati 27-25 in the decider, could not run her Thai rival close enough to take the match over the extra points, where she could have shown her fighting spirit for the second successive day.
The last of the Indians who was left in the tournament, Prajakta Sawant, and her Malaysian partner in the mixed doubles, Yogendran Khrishnan, proved to be no match for the powerful top-seeded Thai combination of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai, and went down in abject surrender 10-21, 9-21, in the very first match to finish on the day.
And so, as we get to the business end of the tournament, it has been left to the tried and tested to keep the Indian pennant flying. It is very much on the cards that both Saina Nehwal and Sai Praneeth will cross their quarter-final hurdles on Friday, and ready themselves for the sterner semi-final battles ahead with strong Thai antagonists — Saina against fourth-seeded Busanan Ongbumrungpan, and Praneeth against the top-seeded southpaw and local favourite, Tanongsak Saensomboonsak.
Updated Date: Jun 02, 2017 12:38 PM