Six semifinals at the Super Series now. Parupalli Kashyap counts them carefully, and recounts each of them heart-breakingly. He’s tried gritting it out, shirking off the nagging memories of being a nearly-there champ, he’s introspected on what goes wrong for days on end and he’s worked on his game — getting stronger and plugging holes to ensure he never feels wretched again over losing a semifinal.
The 28-year-old, however, couldn’t stop himself from walking down the same miserable path, moments after he botched the crucial moments of a 21-12, 17-21, 19-21 loss at the Indonesia Open. Parupalli Kashyap’s own finishing woes combined with Kento Momota’s famous last-burst of energy as the Indian was turned back from two steps of the doorstep of what would have been a maiden entry into a Super Series final at Jakarta.
Momota, a spunky southpaw Japanese with beads around his neck and copper-streaked hair, is known around the circuit for landing himself in tangled and seemingly hopeless situations only to extricate himself out of them with dramatic heroism. And speed. In April, he picked seven points in a row against the fluid strokemaker Hu Yun to march to tournament victory.
Kashyap, who has played at another level this week, stringing wins against Thai Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, Korean Son Wan Ho and World No 1 Chen Long, stayed in the match till the penultimate step to victory, only to wilt under the pressure of a stirring counter-attack from the 20-year-old. Leading 19-16 in the decider, Kashyap would watch despairingly as even his grittiest effort couldn’t stop Momota from grabbing five points in a row to finish the match.
The counter had begun at 17-15 — Momota’s slashing mid-court backhand beating Kashyap’s defense as the Japanese went for broke. He would next have Kashyap sprawled on all fours chasing the lines, though the Indian who kept trying to calm himself down showed intent to fight it out. A racquet change when leading 19-16 was a rare moment at the Jakarta stadium when the usual din of the noisy crowd made way for a slow clap for both shuttlers who were battling at a tremendously high pace of rallies and boasting of quality in their attack.
A soft push would bring Momota within two points of Kashyap, and the Indian 28-year-old would then question a line call as the young Japanese flirted with the corner lines. The longest rally of the match — where Kashyap defended like a warrior and Momota asserted sheer class in harrying his opponent — was at 19-19, a moment in the match that broke the Indian’s edgy resolve.
“Two long rallies at 19-16 and one wrong judgment made it 19-19. I was just dead tired after those two rallies,” he said later, admitting that he botched the finishing. “He’s good .. talented. But I felt I was better today. Just wasn’t able to finish it off. He was more relaxed at the end than me.”
Having come into the match with the giant-killer tag helping as tailwind to his challenge, Kashyap had played a near-perfect game till the end. Sturdy in defense, and convincing in his down-the-line smashes, Kashyap held the upper hand, nipping challenges from the Japanese in the earlier half of the three games. Momota, listless in the opener, would step up the gears in the second. His mode of finishing in the middle game ought to have been instructive — four points straight to drag the match into the decider. An encore in the final set would give him his second SS final in two months while Kashyap was left wondering what more he could do to go over the threshold.
Aware that he’d played well only to flub the ending, he conceded. “But playing like a champ is not enough. I have to win matches to be a champ,” he said. Gutted at the missed chance, he ended, “I’m very, very upset. I’ve been waiting for a Super Series win for a long time. I’m waiting and waiting and waiting. I want to be a champion.”
Momota had other plans.