India’s title defence runs into Chinese wall - Hindustan Times
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India’s title defence runs into Chinese wall

May 02, 2024 11:39 PM IST

Lakshya Sen got the lone win for his team as the hosts proved to be too strong for the defending champs

Deafening roars greeted Lakshya Sen as he entered the Hi Tech Zone Sports Centre to take on home favourite Li Shifeng. With China 2-0 ahead, the partisan crowd had completely doused the noise the small Indian contingent was making with their trumpets and drums.

The Indian contingent cheered on Lakshya Sen, who won his seventh match in 10 meetings against the former All England champion, but the delight was short lived as the defending champions soon lost the tie 1-3 to top seeds China (AFP)
The Indian contingent cheered on Lakshya Sen, who won his seventh match in 10 meetings against the former All England champion, but the delight was short lived as the defending champions soon lost the tie 1-3 to top seeds China (AFP)

The roar grew even louder when the Li won the first game 21-13 to take hosts China within touching distance of a spot in the Thomas Cup semi-finals in Chengdu on Thursday. But Sen had other plans.

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Noticing that Li was getting anxious, Sen brought out his defensive best to quell Li’s attack, forcing the Asian Games champion to make several errors.

World No.13 Sen created brilliant angles in a game of willpower, determined to win longer rallies to counter Li’s powerful jump smash and increased his speed of movement to retrieve everything the world No.6 threw at him, winning the next two games 21-8, 21-14 to provid the India hope with their first win.

“Conditions were a bit tricky, and the home crowd was pumped up because they were 2-0 up. The do-or-die situation did play in my head in the first game. But the first two games got over quickly and weren’t tiring so the decider was all about controlling the net and being steady," said the world No.13, who made the cut for the Paris Olympics on Tuesday.

The Indian contingent cheered on Sen, who won his seventh match in 10 meetings against the former All England champion, but the delight was short lived as the defending champions soon lost the tie 1-3 to top seeds China and exited the world men’s team championships at the quarter-final stage.

Chief coach Pullela Gopichand’s team knew it was never going to be easy facing the 10-time champions in their own backyard when the draws for the knockouts were announced late on Wednesday.

Also, the holders went into the quarters having played their last group tie against Indonesia less than 24 hours earlier while China were coming into the tie having had a rest day.

The fatigue was clearly visible as HS Prannoy, who earned a brilliant win against All England runner-up Anthony Sinisuka Ginting on Wednesday, lost the third game against world No.2 Shi Yuqi. Prannoy took the first game but Shi came from behind to win 15-21, 21-11, 21-14 in an hour and six minutes for his seventh win in nine meetings against Prannoy.

The world No.9 admitted that he was still getting back to his best, following health issues and consequent loss of form, and the long match a day earlier had played a part in the third game. “We had a long match yesterday while China had an off day. It may have also played a part once the rallies got long in the third game. But I am happy with the way I fought and will take a lot of learning from this tournament,” he said.

The Chinese team then extended their lead to 2-0 as world No.1 Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang got the better of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty 21-15, 11-21, 21-12 in 51 minutes. This was the fifth time in six meetings that the reigning Asian champions have beaten the world No.3 Indians.

Sen provided hope with his win over Li in the second singles but it was too much to ask from the scratch pair of Dhruv Kapila and K Sai Pratheek, who had replaced the injured MR Arjun, when they went up against world No.11 Ren Xiang Yu and He Ji Ting. To their credit, the duo showed a gumption before going down 10-21, 10-21 in 34 minutes to hand the tie to the hosts.

India whitewashed by Japan

In the Uber Cup quarter-final against Japan, India’s Ashmita Chaliha and Isharani Baruah pushed their higher-ranked opponents but failed in their bid to cause an upset.

In the first singles, Ashmita saved a match point against world No.11 Aya Ohori and led 11-9 at the interval in the decider. But Ohori used all her experience to raise the tempo immediately after to take five straight points and then went on to wrap the match 21-10, 22-24, 21-15 in an hour and seven minutes. This was Ohori’s second win against the Indian in as many matches.

World No.4 combination of Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida then doubled Japan’s lead with a 21-8, 21-9 victory over national champions Priya Konjengbam and Shruti Mishra.

Isharani then gave a good account of her abilities as she kept pace with former world champion Nozomi Okuhara and even led 14-11 in the opening game before the experienced Japanese turned the tables by winning 10 of the next 11 points.

The second game went identical to the first as both players stayed neck-and- neck till 9-9 before Okuhara marched ahead for a 21-15, 21-12 win to seal the quarter-finals in Japan’s favour.

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