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Asian Games

Asian Games Badminton: Prannoy assures India historic medal, Sindhu exits

HS Prannoy, aged 31, smashed away the gloom of PV Sindhu's morning defeat and turned it into a bright day for India and himself by confirming a historic medal in men's singles - India's first since 1982.

Asian Games Badminton: Prannoy assures India historic medal, Sindhu exits
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FILE PHOTO: HS Prannoy celebrates after reaching the semifinals of the Asian Games 2023 with a win over Lee Zii Jia. 

By

Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 5 Oct 2023 7:13 PM GMT

It was a gloomy morning for Indian badminton fans. Their 28-year-old starlet P. V. Sindhu went down in straight games at the Asian Games 2023. But H. S. Prannoy took the charge to smash away the gloom and turned it into a bright day by assuring himself and India a historic medal after winning a breathtaking quarterfinal against Lee Zii Jia.

Playing the first match of the day, Sindhu, the 2018 Jakarta Asiad silver medallist, was bamboozled by a sprightly He Bingjiao in the women's singles quarterfinal at BJ Gymnasium on Thursday.

Sindhu, who cruised to the quarterfinals with two straight-game wins over lower-ranked Hsu Wen-chi and Putri Kusuma Wardani, faltered against world number 5 Bingjiao, who tested Sindhu's defence from the word go.

Playing against a player she defeated in the past, most notably at the Tokyo Olympics bronze medal match, Sindhu struggled to assess Bingjiao's deceptive net flicks. Bingjiao, despite being a familiar foe, presented herself to Sindhu as a freshly minted player equipped with a fast, agile and deceptive style of play.

Throughout the match, Bingjiao kept Sindhu guessing her move and perplexed the former world champion with over-the-head smashes and down-the-line kills and spun deceptive shots that found Sindhu stretching and missing the shuttle.

Sindhu leaves with more questions than answers

As the first game began, Bingjiao, two years younger than Sindhu at 26, broke away to a 4-2 lead over Sindhu. But the Indian would fight back with three points on the trot as Bingjiao's smash went wide, and Sindhu won a net battle.

Bingjiao's swift court coverage and angled returns kept Sindhu moving and nagged. Sindhu's lack of speed and insufficient power in smashes would eventually force her to find the net. When she revealed her frustration for her failure to advance the shuttle, the difference between Sindhu's strong desire and her sloth body became apparent. They were not in sync.

Before the interval, Bingjiao engaged Sindhu in a rally as she finished it off with a rapid body smash from the mid-court. It was so fast that Sindhu could only watch and sense Bingjiao's power as it landed flat in the backcourt.

PV Sindhu lost to He Bingjiao in straight games.

Bingjiao eventually took an 11-8 lead over Sindhu at the interval. To make it worse, Sindhu lost two early reviews.

Post break, Sindhu's frustration grew manifold as nothing worked in her favour. She was erratic and missed points when Bingjiao should not get those leads. When Sindhu got a chance to land her angled smash in the front court, she spoiled it, hitting the net and giving away a soft 12-8 lead to Bingjiao.

When Sindhu struggled with her lack of accuracy, Bingjiao appeared to be a determined bloke. When she conceded a point for hitting her down-the-line smash wide, Bingjiao did not change her approach. Binjiao showed her uncanny resolve by not quitting the shot. She did not give up until she executed the smash with perfection. At 13-9, she hit an over-the-head smash again. This time, she earned a point and basked herself in loud cheer from the BJ Gymnasium crowd. Sindhu was slow on her feet to have any chance to defend it.

As the game progressed deep, with Sindhu trailing 13-15, Bingjiao would draw Sindhu in a long rally. Both players stayed up in the fight, playing crisscrossing shots. But Bingjiao, being in command of the play, finished it off with a mighty smash as Sindhu looked baffled at the net.

Bingjiao would eventually win the game 21-16 to take the lead by bombarding Sindhu with a mid-court smash.

Despite starting with an early advantage in the second game, Sindhu would soon find her under the onslaught of a resulate Bingjiao, who cruised to a 5-1 lead with a killing smash as Sindhu's struggle with court coverage became more apparent.

Sindhu received a big shock when Bingjiao converted her smash into a defensive push to earn an 8-6 lead and deceived the Indian on the other occasion with a flick shot. Though Sindhu drew level at 8-8, Bingjiao would soon break away to an 11-8 lead and then 16-10, charging Sindhu's body with a quick flat smash, a shot that completely exposed Sindhu's defence wide open.

Sindhu could win only two points from there on. But a fightback was a remote possibility, with Sindhu attempting a net kill far from the net, throwing away a 19-12 lead to Bingjiao, who eventually cruised to the match point at 20-12.

Her new Malaysian coach, Muhammad Hafiz Hashim, could not come to any help either, as Sindhu made several unforced errors and could not bring her jump smashes to any effect. In contrast, Bingjiao finished it off with a full-throttled smash to knock Sindhu out of the Asian Games. It is a defeat that will leave her with many more questions than answers she has been looking for since making a comeback to the court from an injury in January 2023.

Prannoy - The man of power and determination

Prannoy, in contrast, played with determination and a strong impulse despite a heavily strapped back, complimented by his speedy, skillful game and slick court coverage. Even at 31, he gave his younger opponent, Lee, a run for the money.

HS Prannoy played his quarterfinal match against HS Prannoy with a back injury.

After taking the first game 21-16, Prannoy fluttered at a chance to seal the contest in straight games at 20-19. Lee would make a comeback to win the nail-biting game 23-21. Prannoy hit the net cord thrice near the end under pressure.

The deciding game continued similarly before Prannoy took an 11-10 lead at the interval. Although Prannoy retained his lead with net flicks, smashes, and deft placement of the shuttle, Lee would fight back to draw level at 16-16 and then broke away to a 20-18 lead, hitting a crosscourt smash. In a sudden turn of events, the match tilted in Lee's favour, and a spot in the semifinal looked like a distant dream for Prannoy.

At this stage, luck swayed like a boat in a stormy river.

But Prannoy, a man known for making epic comeback and taking the game deep, held his nerves and won two points in a row to draw level 20-20 after taking a magic spray on his back. His crosscourt smash was so fast and accurate that Lee could not even reach the shuttle. Prannoy went for another kill and registered an epic 22-20 win, leaving his 25-year-old opponent shell-shocked and assuring himself of at least a bronze medal.

Coach Pullela Gopichand and Gurusai Dutt burst into lively celebration, and Prannoy took his shirt off and danced to a Bollywood number. Prannoy has belatedly won an Asian Games medal, India's first in men's singles since Syed Modi's bronze in 1982.

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