An error-prone HS Prannoy signed off with an Asian Games bronze, India’s first medal in men’s singles in 41 years, but Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty kept alive the country’s hopes of a first-ever badminton gold after cruising into the men’s doubles final on Friday. Satwik and Chirag, ranked world no. 3, dished out a badminton master-class to outclass Malaysia’s Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, Tokyo bronze medallists and former world champions, 21-17, 21-12 in 46 minutes of dominance.
The Indian pair thus became the first Indian men’s doubles pair to assure of a silver at the Asian Games. The duo was also part of India’s silver-medal winning men’s team last week.
Satwik and Chirag, the reigning Commonwealth Games gold medallists, will face Korea’s Choi Sol Gyu and Kim Won Ho in the final on Saturday. The Indians have a 2-0 record against the Koreans.
While the doubles pair was simply sensational, Prannoy, who was playing with a back niggle, succumbed in a pool of errors, going down 16-21, 9-21 to reigning All England champion, China’s Li Shi Feng, in the semifinals earlier in the day to sign off with a maiden bronze.
It was India’s second medal in men’s singles since Syed Modi claimed a bronze in the 1982 edition in New Delhi.
Satwik and Chirag came into the match with a dismal 1-8 record against the Malaysians but it didn’t matter as they sent down their booming smashes whenever there was an opportunity and also were good with their angles and placement.
The two pairs fought tooth and nail from the first point to 10-10 before Satwik produced a smash to take a one-point lead at the break.
On resumption, the Indian pair showed better anticipation and quickly extended their lead to 16-10 before grabbing six game points.
A service error from the Indians and then a deceptive stroke from Soh helped Malaysia save three game points before Aaron sent his forehand into the net.
The Indians came out all guns blazing with the pair mixing defence and attack seamlessly to zoom to 11-3 at the interval.
The two showed great coordination, moving smoothly back and forth with Satwik displaying his superb defence and Chirag complementing him.
Satwik and Chirag kept dominating the rallies with their anticipation and interceptions and grabbed 10 match points after winning a net duel, and converted in the third attempt.
Earlier, Prannoy made a good start but lost the plot midway through the opening game, mainly due to the errors he committed while looking for precision in his return, going wide and long in the process.
Prannoy, 31, focussed on constructing his rallies, using his drops to good use to lead 3-1. He mixed his shots well, shying away from smashes and instead using tosses to pin his opponent to the baseline.
Li tried to step up the pace and drew parity 5-5. The Indian then used his smash to get a point and soon moved to 8-5. He produced a forehand deceptive return to go to 9-7.
However, looking for precision, Prannoy missed the lines on the flank a few times to allow the Chinese to recover. Li made it 10-10 before a deceptive drop gave Prannoy a one-point cushion.
He led 13-11 when things started turning, as Li made it 15-14 with Prannoy erring.
The Chinese also grew in confidence and used his attack to move to 17-14. A straight jump smash kept Prannoy going, but he soon fell behind to 15-19.
Li won a net duel to gain four game points and then a lucky net cord ended the opening game.
The second game too was a tight affair initially as the duo battled to 4-4 but Li used his attacking returns and started dominating the rallies to eke out a four-point advantage at 8-4 with a net kill. Li had a five-point lead at the interval.
With Prannoy finding it hard to curb his errors, points kept coming thick and fast for Li as he moved to 14-6. The Chinese looked more sharp and showed better anticipation to move to 19-9 in a jiffy.
An on-the-line return gave 11 match points to Li and he sealed it comfortably.
Prannoy conceded that not being being able to achieve peak fitness levels was one of the reasons for his defeat. The 31-year-old Indian has played almost all his matches here with a heavily-taped lower back.
“Credit to Li. He played a really solid game out there. I had more chances in the first game but it drifted away from me after 14-14. At my current fitness level, I’m happy enough to play the semifinal on such a big stage,” said Prannoy.
“It’s the first time he’s beaten me and maybe my fitness played a part, but today he was much better prepared. The crowd gave him confidence. I think a combination of factors gave him the edge.” The shuttler also indicated that the taxing Paris Olympics qualification schedule was taking a toll and he will have to “take care” of his niggles.
“Sadly, there are tons of tournaments before that (2024 Olympics). A whole year of qualifications and so many tournaments can be cruel for some badminton players. I need to take care of these issues (back injury) so now it’s important to get back and check my whole body to make sure I’m fit the entire year.” Prannoy also conceded the difference in age between him and Li could also have been a contributing factor for his loss.
“I think age is a factor because some of them (players) are 21 or 22, and they’re flying all over the court. We have to manage these youngsters but there is also some fun in that.”
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