India failed to reach the quarter-finals of the 2018 Thomas Cup in Bangkok after falling to a 0-5 defeat at the hands of top seeds China in their final group match on Tuesday.
After a shock 1-4 defeat to France on the opening day, India needed to beat nine-time champions China to stay in contention for the quarter-finals. However, the Indians did not manage to win a single match in the best-of-five tie, despite putting up a valiant fight.
Former junior world No 1 Lakshya Sen, and the Indian doubles pairs of Arjun MR - Shlok Ramchandran and Arun George - Sanyam Shukla put up a great fight against much higher-ranked opponents after world No 9 HS Prannoy limped to a 9-21, 9-21 defeat in the opener to Olympic champion Chen Long.
Right from the first few rallies it was clear that Prannoy was struggling with his fitness. The 25-year-old Indian had been plagued with foot injuries from the latter stages of the 2017 season and it appeared something had resurfaced.
Prannoy was just not moving properly on the court and that allowed the Chinese to race to a win in just 27 minutes. It wasn’t clear why Prannoy was allowed to take the court when he was clearly carrying an injury.
Arjun-Shlok, Sanyam-Arun impress
Next up were the 38th-ranked Arjun and Shlok Ramchandran, against the world No 3 Chinese Liu Cheng and Zhang Nan. It was hardly a match-up on paper but Arjun and Shlok were in no mood to surrender as they gave it their all against the world championship gold medallists. The final scoreline of 21-12, 21-15 to the Chinese pair did not do justice to the effort put in by the Indians.
It was then up to Sai Praneeth to keep India alive in the tie as he went up against world No 3 Shi Yuqi. The All England champion was, however, in top form in the first game and did not let Sai get even a sniff of an advantage. The Chinese won all the long rallies with some supreme retrieving and took the first game 21-9.
Sai put up a better show in the second game, even as Shi appeared to switch off following his facile win in the first. Sai wrapped up the second game 21-15 to take the match into a decider. Shi, however, switched back on in the final game and again completely dominated to record a see-saw 21-9, 15-21, 21-12 victory.
Shi’s win put the tie beyond India’s reach but that did not matter to Sanyam and Arun as the second doubles match started. They were up against the world No 4 pair of Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, but the difference in class was only visible on paper as the Indians threw the kitchen sink at the Chinese.
Sanyam and Arun kept up with Li and Liu right until the latter stages of the first game, but from a 17-15 lead the Chinese pair won four straight points to take the game. The second game was an even tighter affair. Li and Liu went on to hold one match point at 20-19, before the Indians won the next three points off some great rallies to force a decider.
Unfortunately for India, Sanyam and Arun seemed to run out of juice in the third game, which was won by the Chinese pair relatively comfortably, 21-15.
Lakshya stretches Lin Dan again
That left us with the final clash of the tie, a rematch between two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan and one of India’s brightest prospects in singles, Lakshya Sen. The two had clashed at the New Zealand Open earlier this month, where Lin had to fight back from a game down to beat his teenaged opponent.
Like in Auckland, Sen again got off to a great start thanks to his young legs, good attack and supreme accuracy. The 16-year-old took the first game 21-16 to again raise hopes of a spectacular win against the five-time world champion.
However, like in Auckland again, Lin slowly upped his tempo as the second game began and continued to make Sen make diagonal runs back and forth on the court. He was doing that in the first game as well, but Sen’s legs had enough juice in them at the time to keep up. But as the match progressed, Sen began to run out of gas and again capitulated, losing the next two games meekly 9-21 and 8-21.
Sen’s attack – including his jump smashes and half smashes – and his shot placement is very good, but until he figures out how to stop his opponents from making him run around the court, he won’t stand a chance against the world’s best shuttlers.
And so it was to be a 5-0 scoreline at the expense of India. It was unfortunate that such a great fight had come out of them only in the final group match and not earlier against lower-ranked opponents from France. If only the Indians had put up even half the fight they did against China in the opener versus France, they would have easily made the quarter-finals.
China and France, thereby, progressed to the quarter-finals. China topped the group after recording 5-0 wins against all three opponents – France, Australia, and India.
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