World No 9 HS Prannoy could only watch from the sidelines as the Indian Thomas Cup team went down 1-4 to France in their opening match of Group A on Sunday in Bangkok.

India surprisingly decided to rest Prannoy for what was essentially a must-win tie for them, considering they have nine-time champions China in the group as well. India now need to beat China and Australia to stand a chance to progress to the quarter-finals of the team championship. While India can be expected to beat Australia, getting past China will need a miracle.

World No 18 B Sai Praneeth got India off to a good start as he beat France’s highest-ranked singles player Brice Leverdez 21-7, 21-18 in just 30 minutes in the opening match of the tie. Praneeth raced off to an 8-0 lead in the first game before a fazed Leverdez could get onto the scoreboard. It seemed as if the Frenchman had got off the wrong side of the bed on Sunday morning as he committed unforced error after unforced error and gifted the first game to the Indian.

Leverdez woke up as the second game began and even took a sizeable 11-6 lead into the break, but then allowed Praneeth to win the next eight points. The Indian’s defence was really good and he won most of the long rallies as he eventually closed out the game, 21-18, and match.

Next up was the first doubles match between the 38th-ranked MR Arjun and Shlok Ramchandran and 47th-ranked Julien Maio and Bastian Kersaudy. The Indian pair was slow to get off the blocks as the Frenchmen raced to a 21-13 win in the first game. Arjun and Shlok put in a much better fight in the second game and it was tight till 14-14, before Maio and Kersaudy won five straight points to put the match out of the Indians’ reach. The French pair won 21-13, 21-16 to draw France level at 1-1 in the tie.

World No 21 Sameer Verma was, on paper, the favourite in his singles match against the 43rd-ranked Lucas Corvee, but even he was rusty in the first game. Corvee took a 20-12 lead and looked set to close out the game before Verma switched on and won six straight points to make it 20-18. Corvee, however, won the next point to take the lead in the match.

Verma looked down and out as the second game began and Corvee raced to a 10-3 lead. The Frenchman went on to hold three match points at 20-17 but a combination of unforced errors and good net play from Verma meant the Indian won the next five points to take the match into a decider.

The third game was a tight affair as both players kept up with each other right to the end until the score was 18-18. From there, Corvee won the next three points to seal the match and give his team a 2-1 lead.

France were then favourites to win the tie, even as Thom Gicquel and Ronan Labar lost no time in confirming the victory. The French doubles pair thrashed Sanyam Shukla and Arun George 21-10, 21-12 in just 28 minutes to hand their team the tie.

This meant that the third and final singles match between Lakshya Sen and Toma Junior Popov was a dead rubber. Sen, the world No 88, looked to be cruising to a win when he took a 19-10 lead in the first game. However, Popov incredibly won the next 10 points thanks to some inexplicable errors from Sen, and took the first game 22-20.

The second game was an extremely tight affair and the score was level 19-19 before Popov committed a couple of errors under pressure to hand the game to Sen. The 16-year-old Indian started off well in the deciding game and held a 15-12 lead, before Popov again launched a late comeback, winning the next seven points to put himself in pole position.

The world No 177 got four match points at 20-16, of which Sen saved three before the Frenchman closed it out 21-19. India next take on Australia in a must-win tie on Monday in the Thomas Cup. The Indian women’s team will play its opening group match of the Uber Cup against Canada later today.