Sen, Srikanth set up first all-Indian semis; Sindhu exits
- Bronze for Padukone and Sai Praneeth have been India’s best at world championship so far
At 19-19 in the decider against Zhao Jun Peng, Lakshya Sen lost a touch battle at the net. His head dropped for a fraction, but was back up immediately. So was Sen, up and away. The next three points belied the age and experience of a 20-year-old playing his first World Championships: a thunderous shot charging at the net aimed at the opponent’s body to save a match point, a flat backhand winner that saw the shuttle curve in to earn a match point even as Sen slipped and a menacing cross-court smash that set up the point to seal the match.
Sen flung his racquet in the air, turned around and ran to catch it before raising both his arms. Moments earlier on the adjacent court, Kidambi Srikanth too had his arms stretched out wide, dishing out a roar with it.
The contrast in the quarter-final victories of Sen and Srikanth at the 2021 BWF World Championships in Huelva on Friday couldn’t have been starker. But it ensured one all-India semi-final and two medals in men’s singles from the same edition, a feat unmatched. HS Prannoy , the third Indian male in the hunt for a last-four berth, lost to Singapore's Loh Kean Yew 14-21, 12-21 as did PV Sindhu, making her seventh Worlds quarter-final appearance, who ran into the tall Tai Tzu Ying wall in her quest to defend her title.
Sen, the world No. 19, prised out a momentum-shifting, muscle-draining battle with the Chinese southpaw 21-15, 15-21, 22-20 in 67 minutes. The 14th-ranked Srikanth hardly broke a sweat in his 26-minute 21-8, 21-7 win against Dutchman Mark Caljouw. The two Indians will clash on Saturday, with a first-ever men’s singles finalist from the country at badminton’s showpiece event guaranteed after Prakash Padukone (1983) and B Sai Praneeth (2019) won bronze medals.
“India is assured of a finalist, so that’s a good thing,” Sen was quoted as saying by the BWF. “I will go all out.”
Like he did in the quarter-final. The 20-year-old former junior world No. 1, who trains at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru, marked his maiden outing at this stage with an energy-sapping three-game win over 15th seed Kenta Nishimoto that lasted almost an hour and a half on Tuesday. Kevin Cordon offered a less stern test on Thursday but Peng would raise the challenge again.
From the onset, it was a physical battle, the Chinese standing up to the Indian’s swift, attacking game. Sen’s court coverage was on show—moving nimbly, jumping, flaunting his power-filled smashes and even diving full length to stay in the point and eventually win it. Sen took the first act 21-15, but Peng, ranked No. 42, began growing into the contest to take the second at the same scoreline. It was a survival of the fittest now.
Sen didn’t just survive, he soared. Taking a 2-0 lead with quality defensive skills, the Indian went into the break with an 8-11 deficit. But he came back and turned the screws, dishing out his attacking repertoire and finding the finishing touches to catch up with Peng and hammer the nail right at the end.
“It’s a very creditable show from him,” said former chief national coach U Vimal Kumar who has coached Sen. “Glad that he slowing making a mark at the big stage. Over the last three months while he has played some big events, we have told him the value of making deep runs and winning tournaments. He has understood it and is maturing. If he is moving well tomorrow (Saturday), it will be a good match with Srikanth.”
If Sen had to ace the physical test and that of his temperament, Srikanth cruised. Caljouw, appearing spent in the body and mind after clocking three hours on the court to win his previous three matches, was outclassed by the 28-year-old Indian steadily inching towards the level that saw him climb the top of the world rankings in 2018 before a dip in fitness and form.
“Just very happy to be in the semi-finals,” said Srikanth. “Coming into this tournament, I was only thinking of the first round. From there it was only about the next match.”
Sindhu fails to break Ying jinx
After booking her quarter-final spot and a 20th career meeting with Ying, Sindhu knew what she had to do. “If I get a lead, I should maintain it and finish it off,” she said after her win over Pornpawee Chochuwong.
The Taiwanese’s all-round dominance made sure that scenario never took shape in a 21-17, 21-13 victory. The Indian was ahead only in the third point of the second game, and three more times thereafter but with a mere single-point advantage.
And so the defending champion was shown the door by the world No. 1 whom Sindhu beat in a memorable match in the 2019 edition. Ying has won all the five matches with the seventh-ranked Indian since, including at the semi-final stage of the Tokyo Olympics this year and the 2020 World Tour Finals.
The Taiwanese was at her deceptive best on Friday, mixing the touch of her slices and drop shots with the tenacity of her smashes. She made a brisk start, racing to a 9-4 lead as Sindhu misjudged the lines early on and hit a few shots long. Sindhu gradually started to find her range and variety of shots, wiping off a portion of that gap towards the end of the game to be at 16-18. But a couple of forehand errors that saw the shuttle drift wide handed Ying the opening game.
The frequency of errors from Sindhu’s racquet continued; she found the net to end a 25-shot rally and two points later, sailed one wide to end a 22-shot duel and hand Ying a 10-7 edge. Even though things got level at 12-12, the Taiwanese didn't let her grip on the Indian loosen, allowing Sindhu to win just one more point thereon as she put the match to bed with a body smash.