For the die-hard Indian badminton fans, the stunning victory of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty in men’s doubles was a huge consolation after the listless display of B. Sai Praneeth on Saturday.
Satwik and Chirag, ranked 10th in the world, brought down third-ranked Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin 21-16, 16-21, 27-25 in a 66-minute thriller. Another victory in this four-team Group A will ensure the debutant Indians a place in the quarterfinals.
In contrast, the future looks bleak for Praneeth, bronze medallist of the 2019 World championship and the favourite to top the group. The 15th ranked Indian looked ordinary against 47th ranked Misha Zilberman. The Israeli needed only 41 minutes to dismiss Praneeth 21-17, 21-15 and move closer to a place in the elimination round from Group D. If Zilbarman wins his next match against Dutchman Mark Caljouw, the door will be shut on Praneeth.
For Satwik and Chirag, as well as Praneeth, it was a make-or-break match going by the composition of the groups in their respective sections.
Tokyo 2020 Badminton: Sai Praneeth loses group stage opener against Zilberman
The Indian pair settled down quickly, held the upper hand and never trailed during the first game. However, in the second, the Chinese Taipei combination had its say and returned the compliment by never conceding the lead.
Though Satwik and Chirag dropped the second game, they dented the confidence of their rivals by bouncing back from 10-19 to win six out of the last eight points.
The decider proved an absolute thriller. The scores were tied 16 times during this nerve-racker, before the Indians broke free by converting their sixth match-point after facing one at 24-25. Before the action moved into the extended points, the Indian pair displayed its never-say-die spirit in good measure by bouncing back from 16-19 to force their first match-point.
Satwik and Chirag face the top-seeded Indonesians Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevn Sanjaya Sukamuljo on Monday. The winner of this match will secure a place in the quarterfinal. In case of a loss, the Indians will have to beat Ben Lane and Sean Vendy of Great Britain on Tuesday to advance.
Praneeth’s defeat came as a huge surprise since the Indian had not dropped a game to Zilberman in three matches, including one this year. With this background, his straight-game tame surrender was confusing.
Up 8-4 and 13-11, Praneeth could not prevent Zilberman from drawing level. A series of unforced errors apart, Praneeth struggled to get his net-play going. With his rival packing a fair amount of power in his strokes, Praneeth’s returns lacked control. The resultant mid-court shuttles proved an easy put-away for Zilberman.
In the second game, the pattern of play was much the same once Zilberman broke away from 4-4. Comfortable cushions of 13-7, 15-9 and 20-12 kept Zilberman safe from any potential threat of a comeback by Praneeth.
On Sunday, World champion P. V. Sindhu will open her campaign against Israel’s Ksenia Polikarpova in the three-player Group J.