India’s Suhas Lalinakere Yathiraj won a superb silver medal after going down fighting against top seed Lucas Mazur of France in a trilling badminton men’s singles SL4 class final at the Tokyo Paralympics on Sunday.
The Indian produced a gritty performance against two-time world champion Mazur, before narrowly going down 21-15, 17-21, 15-21 in a 62-minute summit clash.
The unseeded Suhas had lost to Mazur, who has won three gold medals in European Championships as well, in the qualifying group A match but the Indian made a tremendous effort in the final to challenge his world No 1 rival.
In the SL4 bronze medal play-off, second seed Tarun Dhillon went down 17-21, 11-21 to Indonesia’s Fredy Setiawan in 32 minutes to miss out of a medal at the Yoyogi national stadium.
The 38-year-old Suhas is an IAS officer and the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar (Noida) and has an impairment in one of his ankles.
In the gold medal match, Suhas stepped it up on the big stage. He completely dominated the proceedings early on, celebrating each point with a fist pump as the Indian contingent got behind him.
Suhas stood close to the net and created the opportunities in the rallies to move neck-and-neck with Mazur from 5-5 to 8-8. The Indian varied his pace and put pressure on his fancied rival to lead 11-8 at the first break.
Suhas, playing with a smile, controlled the proceedings with Mazur, who looked jaded after the gruelling semifinal against Tarun Dhillon. The French missed the lines, hitting wide and long to allow the Indian lead 18-12.
Suhas eventually grabbed five game points and next pushed one at the backline to pocket the first game.
The Indian continued the momentum, leading 3-1 in the second game. However, Mazur dug in and clawed back into the lead at 6-5. Suhas again turned it around to lead 11-8 with Mazur making errors.
The Indian maintained his lead at 14-11 after resumption but Mazur grabbed nine of the last 11 points to roar back into the contest.
Suhas rode on his flurry of smashes to make a superb start to the decider, leading 3-0. He picked his shots wisely to maintain a 6-3 lead but Mazur again fought his way back to 9-9. But two errors handed Suhas the lead at the break again.
Mazur soon eked out a three-point lead at 17-13 with his aggressive returns on the Indian’s body. Suhas committed a series of errors in the final stage to allow Mazur grab five match points and the Frenchman sealed it when the Indian went to the net.
“I’m quite happy with the performance but I should have finished it off in the second game,” said Suhas after winning India’s third medal in badminton.
“So I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t finish it off because I had a handsome lead in the second game. But congratulations to Lucas. Whoever played better is the winner.”
A computer engineer, Suhas went on to become an IAS officer and has been posted as a district magistrate of Noida since 2020, a role that saw him at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.
On the court, he has won gold medals at 2017 BWF Turkish Para badminton championship in men’s singles and men’s doubles. He also won gold in 2016 Asia championships, besides a bronze at 2018 Asian Para Games.
Pramod Bhagat on Saturday claimed India’s first badminton gold at the Paralympics in men’s singles SL3 class.
With PTI Inputs