Prannoy, Satwik-Chirag advance to semis
PV Sindhu lost in the women’s singles quarter-final but two medals were confirmed for India in badminton
Pullela Gopichand is not known to be an animated character, always maintaining a certain calm and poise. But when HS Prannoy’s down-the-line smash landed in the corner, the chief national coach exulted in his seat and pumped his fists in jubilation.
With that point, Prannoy achieved what even Gopichand, along with many others couldn’t achieve in 41 years. He became only the second Indian men’s singles player after Syed Modi (bronze) in New Delhi 1982 to claim an Asian Games medal.
In the form of his life, the 31-year-old pulled off a dramatic win against former All England champion Lee Zii Jia which saw him waste two match points and then then save two to clinch a sensational 21-16, 21-23, 22-20 win to enter the semi-finals, ensuring India’s second badminton medal at Hangzhou.
He fell to the floor in elation, took his shirt off and then ran to hug his teary-eyed coach and his assistant RMV Gurusaidutt before breaking into a victory dance with 'dangal, dangal' reverberating at the Binjiang Gymnasium.
"It was a really tough one out there. Lee is always a tough opponent. It was a very physical match for me. I'm not at all in a condition where I could say I'm 80 percent right. But to pull off something like this, I would give a lot of credit to myself. The will to fight was always there. That paid off,” said Prannoy, who claimed his second win in three outings against the former Asian champion.
A lower back issue has been troubling the World Championships bronze medallist for the last one week, also forcing him out of the men’s team final last Sunday which saw India to lose to China. But he has been pushing his body this week, especially in Thursday’s quarter-final battle that lasted an hour and 18 minutes.
The Malaysian led from the start using his big jump smash to take an 11-5 lead at the first game interval, but the Indian fought back to cause a sensational turnaround to level the scores at 16-all. Prannoy regularly rushed to the net and towered over Lee’s drops to bag easy and quick points to close the game in his favour.
It was neck and neck in the second game before Prannoy managed to reach 20-18 but wasted both match point opportunities with his smashes going wide. Lee did not waste the chance gifted to him and closed the game on his second game point.
Wasting two match points with a sore back and at the cusp of history could have devastated most players but Prannoy displayed steely resolve to come out with equal vigour to fight it out in the decider.
But the back was clearly troubling him. Prannoy was tiring and taking mini breaks regularly, bending again and again to tend to his sore back but did not allow that to hamper his game. It led to Lee having two match points this time around but the Kerala shuttler gave his best to not just save them but also clinch the next two points to etch history for Indian badminton.
"Yeah, it (back) is affecting me. But that's how sport is. You can't be 100 percent every day. But you have to learn to pull out matches even when you're 60 or 70 percent. Today was one of those days when I had to do that. I just have to recover for tomorrow, that's the only thought now. I'll just see what my physio can do," said Prannoy.
The world No.7 will next face local player and reigning All England champion Li Shifeng in the semis against whom Prannoy has a perfect 3-0 record.
Satwik-Chirag confirm medal too
The men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty confirmed a third medal from badminton at the Asian Games (India had won silver in men’s team) after reaching the semi-finals with a 21-7, 21-9 victory over Singaporeans Nge Joo Jie and Johann Prajogo in 31 minutes.
Earlier in the day, PV Sindhu went down to China’s He Bing Jiao 16-21, 12-21 in the women’s singles quarter-final.
Rankireddy and Shetty, who on Thursday became only the second Indian men’s pair after Pradeep Gandhe and Leroy D’sa (bronze) in New Delhi 1982 to assure themselves of a medal at the Asian Games, will next face former world champions Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik against whom the Indians have a lopsided 1-8 record.