HS Prannoy on Friday assured himself of a first BWF Badminton World Championships medal after beating defending champion and world No 1 Viktor Axelsen 13-21 21-15 21-16 in the men’s singles quarter-final in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The men’s doubles world No 2 pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty bowed out in the quarter-final stage, losing in straight games 18-21 19-21 to home favourites Kim Astrup and Anders Rasmussen.
Prannoy is now the only Indian left in the World Championships and he will become the fifth men’s singles player to win a Worlds medal after Prakash Padukone (bronze in 1983), B Sai Praneeth (bronze in 2019), Kidambi Srikanth (silver in 2021) and Lakshya Sen (bronze in 2021).
Prannoy came into the tie as the underdog not just because Axelsen was playing in front of his home crowd, but also because he was yet to drop a game in nine World Championships matches.
It was a difficult start for Prannoy with the world No 1 winning seven straight points to take a commanding 9-2 lead in the opening game. Axelsen looked fresh and Prannoy was unable to match up to his level, looking slightly sluggish and having his left shoulder heavily strapped.
As the two players headed into the interval in the first game, Prannoy had caught up to the Dane, but barely, still trailing 5-11 by six points.
The Indian kept Axelsen honest by breaking his serve and not allowing the Dane to run away with the game. But Axelsen still maintained a safe lead of at least three points until the scoreline reached 15-12 which is when the Olympic and world champions showcased his prowess to win six straight points and close out the opening game 21-13.
The second game began in stark contrast to the first one where both Prannoy and Axelsen kept abreast of each other, not allowing the other to extend their lead by too many points.
But at 8-all, Prannoy found his rhythm, forcing Axelsen to commit errors and went into the mid-game interval leading 13-21 9-11 in the second game.
The confidence of the two-point lead was evident as Prannoy came out of the break recharged. The Indian would then go on to extend rallies to 30-40 shots and go on a run of nine points while Axelsen struggled to get his footing again.
At 18-11, Prannoy faltered slightly to allow the Dane to recover three points and bring the deficit down to four points, but the world No 9 didn’t hesitate and lost only one point to close out the second game 21-15 to take the quarter-final to a decider.
The deciding third game began in a similar fashion to the second game where both Prannoy and Axelsen jostled for the lead.
However, once the Indian sensed an opportunity at 7-6, he won five straight points and came back after the mid-game interval to lead 12-6.
It became slightly turbulent for Prannoy when Axelsen looked to be making up the deficit after some mistakes from the Indian and a couple of good points from the Dane saw the score reach 17-14.
But Prannoy kept his head down and was calm and composed until the end, forcing Axelsen to go wide and sealed the match 13-21 21-15 21-16.
Prannoy will play Thailand’s third seed Kunlavut Vitidsarn on Saturday for a place in the final
Satwik-Chirag bow out
Astrup and Rasmussen, ranked 11th in men’s doubles, led the Indian pair 5-2 in the H2H record. Their last meeting was two years ago when the Danes beat the Indians in straight games in the group stage of the 2021 BWF World Tour Finals.
The first game began with the Danes taking a quick 4-1 lead as the world No 2 pair struggled to get into the match. While Astrup was wily with his quick serves, Rasmussen was able support at the back, making sure that his returns and shots were too quick for Rankireddy and Shetty to return.
At the interval in the first game, the Asian champions were trailing 6-11. After the break though, the Indians started to take the game to their opponents, with neither side going on a long run of points.
The 2021 World Championship medallists reached game point at 20-16 through an uncharacteristic service error from Rankireddy. But the Indians managed to hold off on them winning the first game by saving two game points with their trademarks quick rallies and rapid play.
However, Astrup and Rasmussen managed to halt the Indian charge and closed out the first game 21-18 to resounding cheers from the home crowd.
The second game started with Rankireddy and Shetty taking the lead for the first and only time in the match at 1-0. The Danes then began to extend their lead rather rapidly with the Indians constantly chasing them.
The longest rally of the game came at the scoreline 10-6 where both sides displayed some fine badminton, showing off smashes and net shots before Rankireddy and Shetty secured the point.
However, after the interval in the second game, Astrup and Rasmussen started to run away with the game, maintaining a five-point lead all through the middle portion of the game.
At 14-9, Shetty began to cast off the nerves that found him missing winners and smashes in the first game and orchestrated a brilliant run of points that saw the Indians reduce the deficit to just one point.
From 14-15, the world No 2 pair managed to keep things level, but the Danes continuously inched forward. A service error from the home pair and some quick thinking from Rankireddy saw scores level at 16-16.
The Indians tried to keep level with Astrup and Rasmussen, but the European champions proved too good for them and closed out the match 21-18 21-19 in straight games.