Parupalli Kashyap became the first Indian in 14 years to claim victory over a reigning World No 1 in men’s singles badminton after a sensational 14-21, 21-17, 21-14 quarterfinal win over Chinese Chen Long at the Indonesian Premier Super Series event in Jakarta.
Chen Long, a physically towering giant with the steadiest of games, is considered the strongest contender for the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. But the 1 hour 3 minute last-8 encounter saw the earnest Indian who has battled many injury setbacks and accepted several bridesmaid-finishes with supreme grace, turn it on at Jakarta and snatch a gritty victory from the Chinese No 1.
Pullela Gopichand was the last Indian to trump over a No 1 when he scalped Peter Gade on way to his All England triumph in 2001.
Kashyap would want to emulate his long-standing coach and go all the way to claim his first ever Super Series title, something that will help him stay focussed as he wraps his head around the enormity of this feat with perhaps his most significant weekend staring at him.
“I’m extremely happy, because I hung in there and won a game by sticking it out. But I know the job’s not done. Beating a single player in a tournament is not enough. I’ve got odd wins here and there in my career. If you can win big tournaments then you are something. It’s good to beat Chen Long but I desperately want to win many titles,” he said, adamant to steer clear of just the hype of the headlines.
It’s also a sign of his increased maturity after half a decade of scoring marquee wins but never ever getting into contention for a pro title, having made two semis until now.
But it was the same steady head that helped the 28-year-old crack the sternest of current Chinese puzzles that is Chen Long.
“He’s a defensive player who just doesnt make any mistakes. He has no errors. So you need to play great strokes and grab every point from him. There’re no easy points. Last time I lost badly so that was playing on my mind. But I put pressure on him, and hit him hard,” said the aggressive Indian, currently ranked No 12.
Kashyap has been in the Top 10 (he was No 6 two summers ago), made the quarters of the London Olympics and even took the Commonwealth Games gold in 2014 at Glasgow.
However, perennially over-shadowed by achievements of his compatriots – Saina Nehwal and more recently Kidambi Srikanth – Kashyap has had to bide his time patiently. But it was that mental strength that has gradually built up that helped him to his highest-ranked scalp.
Chen Long acknowledged the effort, saying, “There was a lot of pressure. I didn’t play badly but Kashyap didn’t give up. I have beaten him easily in the past but he was mentally stronger today. That was the difference.”
Chen Long, the current world champion and bronze medallist at London Games, is known for his consistency and considered difficult to break down. On Friday though, the raucous Indonesian crowd got behind the underdog, and it was to Kashyap’s credit that he could turn the screws when it mattered.
“I can’t complain about the noise because all the players had to deal with the same conditions – not just me. I just didn’t play my best today,” Long said.
Coach Gopichand was elated his ward’s game was finally coming together after having seen him deal with the ups and downs of his career. “Kashyap’s always been strong, and has the attacking and defensive game. But now he’s starting to mature, understand his body better and getting consistent. Nothing’s come easy for him. But now he’s making his streaks of strength count,” he said.
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