Former world No 1 Srikanth Kidambi produced one of his best results in recent times as he stunned the world No 4 Lee Zii Jia in straight games in the opening round of the Japan Open Super 750 event in Osaka on Wednesday.
Srikanth, who has been struggling a bit for results since his dream run at Thomas Cup, pulled off a 22-20, 23-21 win in a thriller that lasted 38 minutes. The Indian saved three game points in the opening game, and then another in the second game to close the match without needing a decider.
Srikanth will face Japan’s world No 17 Kanta Tsnueyama next in the second round.
Earlier in the day, Lakshya Sen bowed out after losing in three games against home shuttler Kenta Nishimoto in three games. Also losing in the opening round were MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila, who had a good run to the quarterfinals at the World Championships in Tokyo last week and rose up to their career-best ranking of 26.
In women’s singles, Saina Nehwal had her moments in the second game after being outplayed in the opener, but two-time world champion Akane Yamaguchi went on a run of eight straight points after the mid-game interval to close the match out 21-9, 21-17 in 29 minutes.
In women’s doubles, Gayatri Gopichand-Treesa Jolly lost out against world No 8 Rawinda Prajongjai and Jongkolphan Kititharakul from Thailand. The Indians dropped the opening game 17-21 but had a big lead in the second and a decider seemed imminent at 17-12. But a moment of controversy and argument with the umpire led to the momentum getting taken away from the Indian teenagers and the Thai pair won 21-17, 21-18 in 44 minutes.
Super result for Srikanth
After the highs of the Thomas Cup, Srikanth had gone off the boil for a while. While he won silver in the team event and bronze in men’s singles at CWG 2022, his defeats against Ng Tze Yong had to be seen as upsets. He then bowed out early from the World Championships, losing to Zhao Jun Peng (who would go on to beat Lee Zii Jia next). In that context, it was a big result for the Indian as he defeated a player in the Top 5 for the third time this year. The other two were against Anders Antonsen of Denmark.
Srikanth started the match well and had a handy lead at 15-11 but Lee came back into the game and started reeling off quick points. Srikanth had to save three game points then to make it 20-20 before going on a run of two more points for five straight to close out the opening game.
The second game saw Lee Zii Jia impose himself more on rallies and Srikanth had to constantly fight to stay in touch. The Indian however pulled ahead in the second half and had two match points, both of which were saved by Lee. There was a moment of controversy at 21-21 as it seemed that the shuttle had been called in on Srikanth’s side by the line judge but the chair umpire seemed to overrule it to give the Indian another match point. A brilliant rally followed and Srikanth registered his first win against the Malaysian superstar in three meetings.
“For me, it was more about being consistent,” Srikanth told BWF after the win. “I’ve been close before playing against him. At one point I was leading 15-11 in the first game and he was playing some attacking shots, but for me, I needed to play consistently. I couldn’t give away any easy points. I feel really happy. I’m definitely tired, but I’m looking forward to playing my next match.”
Lakshya, in his second meeting against world No 21 Nishimoto, started the match well to remain in control for the most part of the opening game despite the Japanese shuttler constantly fighting back. But the Indian lost control of the shuttle often in Game 2 and Game 3, unable to string together a run of points after leading 11-9 at the interval in the second game. Nishimoto won the match 18-21, 21-14, 21-13 in 65 minutes, staying in control of the decider.
For Dhruv and Arjun, it was a case of a missed opportunity as they had a match point to win in straight games but Koreans Choi Sol Gyu and Kim Won Ho won 19-21, 23-21, 21-15 in 64 minutes.
The Indians trailed by some distance in the second game, but fought back to come from 8-15 down and saved two game points to have a match point of their own. The Koreans saved that to take the match to the decider and closed it out in three.
Earlier, on Tuesday, HS Prannoy progressed to the round of 16 after his first-round opponent Ng ka Long Angus retired midway through their match. Prannoy will face eighth seed Loh Kean Yew of Singapore in the second round on Thursday. It’s a rematch of the 2021 World Championships quarterfinal where Loh won in straight games before going on to win gold. Prannoy however leads the Head-to-Head 2-1.
Srikanth’s H2H against Tsuneyama is 0-1, with the Japanese shuttler winning the sole past meeting in 2019.
Venkat Prasad and Juhi Dewangan bowed out against mixed doubles world champions from China Zheng/Huang. The Chinese juggernaut has been unstoppable in recent months and they won 21-11, 21-10 in 23 minutes.
In the last match of the day, Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala tried to stage a late fightback but lost 18-21, 17-21 in the men’s doubles round of 32 against the Popov brothers of France.
This article will be updated through the day. Follow score updates on the matches in our Twitter thread here. Screenshots courtesy Tournament Software.