PV Sindhu remains India’s lone medal hope in badminton after Kidambi Srikanth went down fighting to two-time defending champion Lin Dan in the men’s singles quarterfinals at the Rio Olympics on Wednesday.
Sindhu scripted a stellar 22-20, 21-19 win against former world number one and London Games silver medallist Wang Yihan to enter the women’s semifinals. A win against Japan’s Nozomo Okuhara in the semifinal on Thursday will assure Sindhu of a historic medal.
However, India’s campaign in the men’s singles ended after Srikanth, who had beaten the five-time World Champion Lin Dan in the 2014 China Open final, suffered a 6-21, 21-11, 18-21 loss against the World No 3 in a nerve-wracking quarterfinal.
Lin Dan will now take on his long-time rival and two-time Olympic silver medallist Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia in a mouth-watering semifinal clash. The top seed beat sixth seed Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei 21-9, 21-15.
Srikanth thus remained the second Indian male shuttler to reach the quarterfinals after Parupalli Kashyap achieved the feat at the London Games.
A former World No 3, Srikanth seemed nervous early on and was totally outclassed in the lopsided opening game which lasted just 16 minutes.
Srikanth struggled with his net play early on to allow Lin Dan to lead 4-1 in the first game. The left-handed Chinese continued to dominate with his controlled stroke play as he engaged in long rallies with the Indian to lead 10-1 after winning a video referral. With Srikanth once again hitting long, Lin Dan entered the interval at 11-1.
After the break, Srikanth tried to get a hold on his nerves and played long rallies but always ended up hitting a wayward shot as Lin Dan continued to surge ahead. In the end, it was two unforced errors that gifted the game to the Chinese.
There was a visible change in Srikanth’s demeanour in the second game as he raced to a 6-3 lead. His strokes got better as he caught the celebrated Chinese off guard a few times with his angled returns and held a six-point advantage at the interval.
Srikanth tried to engage Lin Dan in long rallies with some deep corner returns and then came up with some sublime winners to lead 15-8. The Indian missed a video referral to allow Lin Dan a point but his forehand smash found Lin Dan napping next. The Chinese again hit long as Srikanth led 17-9.
A cross court backhand return earned Srikanth another point and with the Chinese going long again, meant he had a 10-game point advantage. One smash went wide but Srikanth roared back into the contest with a superb return at the forecourt.
The deciding game was a nail-biting contest with the momentum swinging back and forth. Srikanth recovered from an early deficit to bring the score back to 7-7. Trailing, Dan came up with a fightback of his own for 13-13. With a two-point lead, the Chinese did well to claw back ahead every time Srikanth came within a point of levelling. Dan came up with three match points at 20-17 and although the Indian managed to save one, Dan converted on the second match point.