HS Prannoy applied the finishing touches after Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty, Srikanth Kidambi won their respective matches as India defeated a strong Malaysian side to reach the semi-finals of Thomas Cup badminton tournament and create a moment of history.
It is the first time in the history of the tournament, in its current format since the early 80s, that India have reached the semifinals. In the past, India had semi-final equivalent performances from 1952, 1955 and 1979 and this result marked the end of a 43-year wait. It will also be India’s first ever Thomas Cup medal in the tournament, considered to be the BWF World Team Championships, where reaching semifinals assures a place on the podium.
Earlier in the day, India’s campaign at the Uber Cup ended as PV Sindhu and Co lost their quarterfinal tie against hosts Thailand 3-0 in Bangkok. The win assured Thailand of a medal at the team event.
Up against five-time champions of the past, world No 8 pair Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, world championships silver medallist Srikanth and former top 10 player Prannoy delivered clutch wins.
India’s reward is a semi-final against Denmark, who fought back from the brink to reach semi-final after defeating a gritty Korean side.
Lakshya Sen was involved in an epic opening game against Lee Zii Jia, but the Malaysian superstar dominated in the second to win in straight games to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Satwik-Chirag were then up against Goh Sze Fei/Nur Izzuddin in a crucial doubles tie and they were charged up right through to win in two games. It was a hugely important win and it saw the Indian pair extend their H2H to 6-1 against the Malaysians. Srikanth then dominated his singles match to put India one win away from assuring a medal. It all came down to HS Prannoy in the final singles tie after Krishna Prasad/Vishnuvardhan were beaten by Aaron Chia/Teo Ee Yi. And the man from Kerala did it for India, with an assured win to assure India a medal.
Once Prannoy sealed the result, the joy for the Indian squad knew no bounds. The players and support staff watching on, raced through to surround the shuttler who delivered the winning moment. “One of the best teams to come into Thomas cup for us. This is for the next generation,” Prannoy said after the match. “There are no negative thoughts in the team, all just positive energy. You can see it on court, everybody just wants to win it for each other. It’s been very nice to see.”
“Individually all of us have done well in the last six months,” former World No 1 Srikanth had said after his match, when India led 2-1. “Now it was just very important for all of us to be focussed, to be consistent, to win the match we play and forget the result. Just want to play our best. I know this is a team event, when we come here as a team in the past we haven’t consistently done well. At least in the Uber Cup, the women have done extremely well [in the past]. But we have reached quarters before but couldn’t really perform on the day, this time we really want to do well. That’s it.”
Uber Cup campaign ends
India couldn’t top their group and get a seeding after a 0-5 defeat against Korea on Wednesday. They were pitted against group-toppers Thailand in the quarterfinals and it was always going to be a difficult ask.
A clash between Sindhu and Ratchanok Intanon began proceedings on Thursday and it was the Thai who ended up bettering her head-to-head record to 8-4 against the Indian. The two former world champions took the match to a decider and it was Intanon who prevailed 21-18, 17-21, 12-21.
Sindhu started the match strongly and showed great pace and skill to keep her nose ahead. Intanon tried to fight back but the Indian held firm to close out the first game. The second game, however, saw the Thai raise her level and push ahead. Sindhu managed to get to 15-18 despite being inconsistent, but Intanon didn’t panic and forced a decider.
The third game saw both players go toe-to-toe and there was little to choose between them in the first half. Sindhu trailed by just one point at 8-9 and it felt the match could go either way. But that’s when Intanon made her move. She took the lead to the interval and won five points in a row. Sindhu did well to reduce the deficit to 12-14 but Intanon then went on a stunning seven-point streak to seal the deal.
Next up was a doubles clash. Shruti Mishra and Simran Singhi were up against the world No 8 pair of Rawinda Prajongjai and Jongkolphan Kititharakul. The unranked Indian pair did remarkably well to lead 15-14 in the first game. They were aggressive and maintained a good tempo to put their opponents under pressure. But the Thai pair found their best when they needed it most to win five points in a row before clinching the opener.
The second game too saw Mishra-Singhi put on a strong start. They raced to a 8-5 lead but a disappointing few minutes of play saw them lose six points in a row and concede a lead at the interval. The Indians could win just five points thereafter as the errors kept increasing. Prajongjai-Kititharakul stamped their authority and completed a comfortable 21-16, 21-13 win at the end.
Aakarshi Kashyap took the court after that and it was a must-win singles match for India. She was up against world No 10 Pornpawee Chochuwong and the pressure was on.
Kashyap showed great skill, with her drop shots and net-play working well, to get to 10-10 in the opener before Chochuwong took a narrow lead to the interval. Both players then had bursts of form as Kashyap trailed by just one point at 15-16, but Chochuwong raised her game at just the right time to pull ahead and close out the first game.
The second game wasn’t as competitive, though. The Thai raced to a 8-2 lead before Kashyap won four of the next five points. But there wasn’t much of a fight thereafter as Chochuwong showed her class, with her sharp and precise cross-court shots working to great effect, and completed a 21-16, 21-11 victory to take Thailand to the semifinals and secure a medal.