HS Prannoy twice shrugged off Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen to score a stunning come from behind victory on Day 1 of the All England Championships at Birmingham. The strapping, booming backhand of Indian badminton ace was decisive in the closing stages of the match to win 9-21, 21-18, 21-18 against the 8th seed and make it to the second round on Wednesday.
While the Indian World No 10 has scalped several big names this last year, he awaits a title-winning run at this level. At the All England, he started iffy with a forgettable opening set. But the 25-year-old cranked up the gears when needed to race to level the sets from 18-all, and in the decider refused to let up on his offensive, to make Round 2 late on Day 1.
Prannoy joined compatriot Srikanth and PV Sindhu in Round 2, and interestingly all three began with miserable opening sets.
Kidambi Srikanth gave coach P Gopichand an almighty scare when he found himself a match point down against Brice Leverdez in the first round at All England. The coach was left leaning forward by the end of the match, anxiety forming worry lines on his forehead as the score read 21-7, 14-21, 20-18 in favour of Srikanth’s opponent. From the other side, Leverdez’s coach Bertrand Gallet was sending flying kisses.
Gallet who’s coached Leverdez for a long time at his club and is now the national coach – also the journeyman’s biggest cheer-leader – was appreciating what the unfancied 32-year-old Frenchman had managed to do: put the World No 3 Indian in the tightest of spots. Starting with a first set scoreline of 7-21, which was worthy of a double-take, Srikanth and the maverick Frenchman who had ousted Lee Chong Wei at the Worlds last year, had ratcheted up the excitement levels – the Indian inadvertently so, after his slow start and the initial lack of sharpness at the net. The Indian needed to compose himself and assert his smashing prowess before he strung together the last three points and win the opener 7-21, 21-14, 21-18 in 58 minutes.
Srikanth has a notorious record at the All England these last few years, but losing to Japanese Kento Momota in Round 1 carried with it a respectability that going down to the eccentric Frenchman wouldn’t have. In the end, it was his ability to put his head down and get the job done with those last three points after getting his attack on track, that ensured India didn’t start the big week at Birmingham with an upset
“It was close. In the second I was actually down a match point, and I’m just very lucky to pull this out. At such big events, the first rounds are always tricky. You have to pull out these kinds of matches to stay, and this gives me confidence,” he told BWF later.
Srikanth came on the back of a sensational 2017 with four Super Series titles though he’s picked himself a reputation of not polishing off the big events.
“I wasn’t really fit to win the Dubai Super Series Finals tournament. I feel fit and confident in training. But match momentum and form is always different from how you feel in training, and can only be judged in the tournament. You only know how well you’re playing through matches. I really feel I should play more matches to get myself that momentum. It’s tough playing Brice in first round but he played exceptionally well and I was lucky to win that last point,” he added.
“I haven’t played much these last few months, so matches like these are good for my confidence,” he would say, later. Moreover it seemed to have injected some urgency and focus into him. “It’s definitely tough trying to go deep into the tournament. But I’m thinking only of the next round, not the quarterfinals,” he added.
Srikanth next plays Chinese newbie Huang Yuxiang. Prannoy will battle Indonesian Tommy Sugiarto and the two Indians could face off in quarters.
The tournament itself started with a shock result when Thai former World champ Ratchanok Intanon was sent packing in three by Canadian Michelle Li. Saina Nehwal didn’t have enough in her arsenal, as Tai Tzu Ying trampled her best possible efforts at resistance, to win 21-14, 21-18 and send the 2015 finalist home in one of her toughest Round 1s at All England.
That the 74 points won by both were wrapped up in 38 minutes indicates the pace of shot-making at which Tai Tzu Ying operated and forced Nehwal to play. The Indian – 3 days shy of her 28th birthday – wasn’t completely out of the match. The World No 11’s movements were fractionally better than in Indonesia in January, and she was snapping at the World No 1’s heels till 14-all in the first set, and even led 16-11 in the second. Picking the Taipese girl’s dropshots and inducing impatience through prolonged rallies from her retrieving, Nehwal could jab at her opponent, but she never had the knockout punch.
Twice, the flat, fast higher tosses, and a few times in the second, Nehwal’s stalking of the shuttle picking every bird kept her in the match. But it was pretty evident at 16-13 – when Tai Tzu slashed at a long rally with a smash kissing the line, that beating her demanded breathless defending and a roaring attack. The errors came occasionally when Tai Tzu could be frustrated into making mistakes, but largely she could switch gears at will and hoard points – like 7 in a row from 14-all to 21-14 to end Nehwal’s hopes. Bouncing away on the court, the defending champion made Nehwal look more leaden footed in comparison.
Perhaps the cleanest wins of the day came from India’s mixed doubles pairing of Sikki Reddy-Pranaav Jerry Chopda, who beat Germans Marvin Siedel and Linda Efler 21-19, 21-13.
PV Sindhu advanced to Round 2 as well, and should meet tricky Thai Nitchaon Jindapol, but received her wake-up call sooner than she might’ve anticipated. Another Thai Pornpawee Chochuwong’s cloudburst of 5 points from trailing 9-14 in the opener to levelling and claiming the opening set 22-20, jolted awake the Indian World No 4. She would barely concede the lead thereafter crunching away the match at 20-22, 21-17, 21-9 – especially scathing in the third. But like Srikanth, she ensured these were just hiccups and not an electric shock on Day 1.
Sai Praneeth looked the most assured when racing up a 21-13 lead against Korean fifth seed Son Wan Ho. Then, he promptly crumbled – looking more tentative than any other Indian in a matter of minutes – going down 13-21, 21-15, 21-11.