With the semi-final tied at 2-2, HS Prannoy slipped and fell awkwardly while trailing 4-11 in the first game of the deciding fifth rubber against Denmark. A doctor was called. His heel strapped after medical timeout, the Indian shuttler lost 13-21. At that point, India’s hopes of reaching a maiden Thomas Cup final looked all but over.
But just like Thursday, the world No. 23 staged a sensational comeback to defeat Rasmus Gemke 13-21, 21-9, 21-12 in an hour and 13 minutes to take India to the final of the prestigious biennial tournament, also known as the World Men’s Team Championships, for the first time since the first edition in 1949 with a 3-2 victory over former champions Denmark on Friday.
An elated Indian team rushed on to the court to hug Prannoy just as his sliced drop crossed the net with Gemke unable to reach the shuttle. In the final at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, India will face the most successful team in the history of the tournament, 14-time winners and defending champions Indonesia who beat Japan 3-2. India is only the ninth team ever to reach the final and will aim to become only the sixth outfit to lift the trophy on Sunday.
Both teams retained the winning combination which had propelled them into the last four. Up against world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen, Lakshya Sen had a tall task to overcome the reigning Olympic champion especially after losing the opening rubber in the quarter-final against Malaysia on Thursday. Though the 20-year-old has beaten the former world champion in the German Open last March, Friday was different. The Dane dominated the promising Indian youngster, giving the 2016 champions a 1-0 lead in the semi-final with a 21-13, 21-13 win in 49 minutes.
Axelsen was quick on his feet and changed the direction of play constantly. Sen wasn’t able to cope and made wayward errors. Dispirited, Sen ran out of ideas to give up and hand Axelsen a sixth win in seven meetings.
“I could play from the better end and tried to keep a good length in the first game but with his smashes, he was able to crack my defence. His half smashes were working really well today. In the second game I gave (away) an early lead and it was hard for me to come back,” said Sen, who reached the All England final in March.
“I made unforced errors because of the feel of the lifts. I could have started the second game better.”
But just like Thursday, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty provided India the win that got them off the mark. In the first doubles rubber, the world No. 8 combination beat Kim Astrup and Mathias Christiansen 21-18, 21-23, 22-20 in a marathoner that lasted an hour and 18 minutes. Though in better rhythm than the Danish pair, they wasted five match points finally converting the sixth.
“In all the games, we started off really slow. The first nine points in both the games we were down 9-3 or 9-4 but from there we got our rhythm. The second game we should have finished off at 20-18 but a few jittery moments and they took the game away from us. But the way we got back in the third game, it couldn’t have gotten any better. We kept calm and stuck to our plan,” said Shetty.
In a battle between two world championship silver medallists, it was Kidambi Srikanth who came out on top, beating world No. 3 Anders Antonsen 21-18, 12-21, 21-15 in an hour and 20 minutes to give India a 2-1 lead. Probably the most tactical player on the circuit, Antonsen fought hard but the former world No. 1 Indian was far more proactive on the day much to the delight of his team.
Indian’s second doubles pairing of Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala proved to be the weak link yet again, going down to Anders Skaarup Rasmussen and Frederik Sogaard 14-21, 13-21 in 39 minutes. Though a scratch pair, the experience of the world championship bronze medallist Rasmussen mattered in the crucial encounter, allowing Denmark to level the contest at 2-2.
So again it came down to Prannoy, who after losing the first game found the spring in his step to beat Gemke 13-21, 21-9, 21-12 in an hour 13 minutes. Prannoy’s win, his second in four meetings against the Dane, came with a points spree in the second and third games. Taking advantage of Gemke’s loose defence, which went missing as the match progressed, the shuttler from the Kerala was easily able to close the game.
Uber Cup final
Earlier in the day, holders China eased into yet another Uber Cup final with a 3-0 victory over hosts Thailand and will take on South Korea, who ousted Japan 3-0 in the other semi-final.