B Sai Praneeth brought himself within two points of an upset win against World No 1 Kento Momota, but could not overcome the last barrier as he went down 19-21, 21-14, 22-20 in the opening round at Singapore Open.
Ranked No 20 in the world, Sai played freely to go from 13-19 down in the decider to level at 20-20, but couldn’t drive the knife in for a favourable result after a 75 minute encounter.
The 24-year-old top-ranked Japanese has staggering 11-3 and 4-0 records against India’s Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy respectively, while Sameer Verma is currently trailing him 2-1. Sai Praneeth, 26, though, boasts a 2-2 head-to-head, though his last pair of wins came in 2013 when both were still finding their feet on the circuit.
In the opening round, Sai struck the first blow in the first game grabbing the momentum from 16-all to win 21-19. Momota would level in the second and take a 15-9 lead in the decider.
However, Sai had played well enough through the first two sets putting pressure on the Japanese, which meant the latter wasn’t entirely blazing through despite leading 19-13.
“When the scores started getting close, he was a bit under pressure and I played some good strokes. I got some good smashes in myself and he came under pressure because I was picking all his smashes,” Sai said. However Momota didn’t make the same mistakes as the opening set. “20-20 was a really long rally and the shuttle became slow,” he added.
Stretched for patience, Sai would falter in a familiar way drawn into the long point. Last point he would just hit out on receiving to lose 20-22.
At their last meeting at the Worlds, Sai had been outplayed in straight sets. “I was nowhere close to him in that match. I played better than last time,” he said.