B Sai Praneeth is known for beating top 10 players on a regular basis. He had ousted two—Indonesians Anthony Sinisuka Ginging and Asian Games champion Jonatan Christie—on the way to the World Championships semi-finals. However, he could not repeat that performance on Saturday as he went down 13-21, 8-21 to defending champion Kento Momota of Japan in 42 minutes.
The 16th seeded Indian fought hard, and gave it his all, but the world No 1 proved too good. Praneeth will nonetheless return home as the only Indian men’s player other than Prakash Padukone at Copenhagen 1983 to have won a medal, a bronze, at the World Championships.
He is also the only Indian player, after Saina Nehwal, to win medals at both the senior and junior World Championships. He won bronze in the 2010 junior tournament in Mexico.
The Swiss city of Basel has been good to the world No 19. He reached the final of the Swiss Open in March, on his way defeating Olympic champion Chen Long of China. The 27-year-old had, however, lost to another Chinese player, Shi Yuqi, in the summit clash.
In a contest between two players who had not dropped a game, the Indian started aggressively, winning the first two points. He attacked the net and matched Momota’s game. It promised to develop into a tight contest till the mid-game break, when Momota led 11-10.
However, the Japanese started asserting himself after that. Speed and agility is the hallmark of top-level badminton nowadays and the southpaw’s jump smashes and ability to retrieve left Praneeth overwhelmed.
After the Indian retrieved a couple of cross court smashes, Momota hit down the line, stumping the India. In no time, the Japanese closed the first game.
Praneeth had been confident before the game that he knew Momota’s game and had beaten him in the past. But that was in 2013 when the Japanese was in transition from junior to senior.
The Indian started tossing and lifting the shuttle to get Momota to attack and draw errors. But Momota, the most consistent player over the last year, easily smashed to pocket points.
Momota fed off Praneeth’s pace as the latter tried to attack, mixing it up and drawing errors from the Indian. Momota closed out the contest as Sai by the end ran out of ideas.
However, the Indian should take heart from his performances.
“Sai Praneeth shouldn’t be discouraged. This is the kind of encouragement he needed to improve his performances. He has had a very good tournament beating two top-seeded Indonesians to reach the semi-finals,” said Danish badminton legend Morten Frost.
Aug 25, 2019 16:44 IST