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World badminton: Prannoy’s brave run halted by Thai Vitidsarn

Leading 21-18, 5-1, HS Prannoy looked in sublime touch to enter what would have been his maiden final in the World Championships. But it’s not easy playing marathon contests lasting 60-70 minutes for five consecutive days, especially when you are 31 and recovery is a challenge.

Prannoy H. S. of India during his quarter final single match against Viktor Axelsen of Denmark at the BWF World Championship(AP)
Prannoy H. S. of India during his quarter final single match against Viktor Axelsen of Denmark at the BWF World Championship(AP)

Prannoy’s legs started tiring from the second game onwards against Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn, nine years his junior. While he was reaching out for the shuttle in the first, he was letting the ‘bird’ reach him in the last two games. He kept trying, displaying moments of exquisite skill, but the consistency kept dropping as fatigue set in.

The Indian world No.9 eventually lost his semi-final 21-18, 13-21, 14-21 to the third seed after playing yet another lengthy encounter that lasted an hour and 16 minutes, to settle for a first bronze medal at the prestigious tournament in Copenhagen. It was Prannoy’s second successive defeat to Vitidsarn, who will play in his second consecutive World Championships final on Sunday. He will meet Denmark’s Anders Antonsen or Japan’s Kodai Naraoka in the final.

“When you’re on court, you think you’ve done everything but in hindsight you always feel you could’ve played a little better. But yes, physically I was not able to push through today. The legs were not in great shape. I was trying hard, not letting go easily, but credit to him. Kunlavut was putting in shuttles continuously at good speed, not making many errors at any point of the game,” Prannoy, who has been in great form this season, said.

Prannoy’s bronze ensured that India’s streak of not returning empty-handed from the World Championships since 2011 continues. He can be proud, having beaten world champion Viktor Axelsen and former winner Loh Kean Yew.

“This bronze means a lot to me. It’s been almost 12 years on the circuit and you always want to have those big medals. Yes, you’re disappointed not to get gold but the starting step is bronze. A lot of things fell in place this week,” said the Pullela Gopichand protégé.

The last Indian in the tournament came out firing on all cylinders as he hammered down smashes from the start. The ninth seed anticipated and defended well, handing out short lifts and gambling on some shots, which earned him multiple points and luck also favoured him. Prannoy forced Vitidsarn into making errors to take seven straight points to go into the interval leading 11-5. Prannoy read his opponent well, kept up his defences and smashed well to win points at will. Quality shots, constant change of angles and attack on the forehand followed by attack on the backhand, helped Prannoy easily take the first game against the world No.3.

Though Prannoy led 5-1 in the second game, Vitidsarn upped the ante. Known for his relaxed game, Vitidsarn is one of the most technical players on the circuit who is better than the most when playing the shuttle from below the tape. The Thai increased the pace to make Prannoy work to earn points. But from 7-all the game started going towards the Thai as the young and quick legs of Vitidsarn helped him reach the shuttle early and bury it at every opportunity. Having played marathon contests through the week, Prannoy began to tire, which also led him to make errors. The third seed was easily able to claim the longer rallies. Using disguise and skill, Vitidsarn forced the decider by converting the first game point.

Apart from a brief phase, Vitidsarn led in the decider from the start. The Thai became more clinical, his smashes got stronger and he displayed fantastic athleticism to defend and win points. Prannoy, on the other hand, looked totally drained. He attempted flamboyant shots which eventually proved to be wayward as Vitidsarn led 11-7 at the interval. Prannoy came with some beautiful shots once in a while but Vitidsarn had the game under control. The Thai also started dominating the forecourt and eventually held six match points, converting the first to enter the final at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen.

“In the third game, I lost it in the first half. That was crucial. You can’t be down at that point. But I have to respect how my body is taking these matches. It is not easy to play 70 minutes back-to-back for four days. He is much younger so is able to recover faster. But I am really happy with the way things went this week,” said Prannoy.

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