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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Thomas Cup: India seal it with Shetty’s moonball serve, Srikanth’s deception and Prannoy’s hiss

This Thomas Cup will count as the resurrection of Kidambi Srikanth, who has won all 5 matches, and playing the third rubber lent stability to the core of this group.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai |
Updated: May 14, 2022 6:05:37 pm
HS PrannoyIndia's Prannoy H.S. in action. (AP)

The flick serve in doubles employed by both Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, will go down in history as the singularly cheeky gameplan that took India into the finals of a Thomas Cup.

Badminton serves are seldom attacking – by definition they are polite, defensive rally-openers. But the complexion of the game changes altogether when the shuttle isn’t introduced into play at a short length, and instead sent lobbed in a mocking arc to the backcourt – while opponents are keyed up and high strung, to start flat exchanges from the front court.

What Chirag Shetty did so brilliantly through the length of India’s first doubles rubber against Kim Astrup and Matthias Christiansen, was to send the Danes scurrying back with neat little lobs to enforce a turn of the torso. This would inevitably open up the court for Satwik to send the second return into an empty space.

Winning 21-18, 21-23, 22-20 in the crucial match, it was the cackling flick serve that went moon-balling to trigger chaos in the Danish returns.

Jwala Gutta was renowned for saying she judged a doubles player on the quality of their serves. This included discretion on when to not serve short and at what point in a rally. Chirag and Satwik – he used it to wrap up the match, looked proficient in using the flying bird at outset, at crucial times through their opening doubles.

Chirag has been a force of nature in this Thomas Cup campaign, assuming leadership on the court, putting in the workload and oozing positivity that wouldn’t allow shoulders to slump. But with his racquet head he did two things – he swayed his upper body while serving to mask the serve. And then added such wristiness on the angled returns from midcourt while galloping about that the cocky Danes and their cacophonous drums were nicely

Chirag’s game is all about placement, which compensates for speed and power and fast twitching fibres of East Asian whizkids. Satwik’s read on the game is underrated too, and he ensured that even after the Indians lost the second set flubbing two match points, they remained equally electric in the third, and equalised 1-1 after Axelsen had bullied Lakshya Sen in the opener.

With India 1-1 after the doubles, Kidambi Srikanth was tasked with the second singles against a mighty charged up Anders Antonsen. The ponytailed Dane has the game and the tactics. He can also pile on pressure with his hassling attack. But Srikanth was unperturbed.

Most noteworthy in Srikanth’s all-out attack on the day (besides the fitness that helped him do that) was the sophisticated deception he brought to the court. Not merely on the racquet, but in his jump. Sealing the opening set at 21-18 was a beautiful leap in the air – one which was poised to send the shuttle cross, but the 29-year-old left Antonsen rooted and stumbling when he went down the line

At 2-1 in the decider, came the opposite trick. Again a jump at the far corner, once again Antonsen took a step to his left anticipating a straight smash looking at how the Indian was angled. But Srikanth sent a glorious smash – cross and deep. This was not mere rich and deep, this was wealthy deep – it had speed and wholesome rip. All this while his cross court smashes on the Dane’s forehand were yielding mid court lifts for Srikanth to slash away.

Antonsen even found an antidote. He stopped lifting to Srikanth’s forehand – albeit a little late to go from 8-15 down to 13-15 for half a dozen points. He attempted to pin Srikanth to his backhand playing only to half of the court. However, Srikanth’s attack on the day remained casually magnificent.

This Thomas Cup will count as the resurrection of Kidambi Srikanth, who has won all 5 matches, and playing the third rubber lent stability to the core of this group. His reappearing attack as he won 21-18, 12-21, 21-15 will count as happy tidings in Indian badminton.

Prannoy flicks a gear

HS Prannoy, cheering for whom reverberated in the Impact Arena as “HSP…HSP” was again the hero adding finishing touches to the dumping out of Denmark. That he, ranked 23, started the third set decider on a disadvantageous side of court and still built up a good lead points to his complete bidding over Rasmus Gemke, ranked 13.

Losing the opener 21-13, the Indian betrayed zero signs of panic. Sticking to the process even after a slide and fall needed a medical timeout, Prannoy was back on his feet and fishing out such crisp strokes that the Dane was left boggled and almost in tears.
There were the net pushes and the asserting smashes in his 13-21, 21-9, 21-12 spirit-crushing win over Gemke. And then there was the point that sealed the deal : the most casual, backhand flick of a crosscourt block swatted away, as if nothing much mattered. Not even reverence to history of the Thomas Cup kinds. India didn’t have to show it belonged. In its maiden entry into Thomas Cup orbit, H S Prannoy just flicked a gear.

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