All-England: Sai Praneeth stuns Lee Chong Wei

B. Sai Praneeth inflicted a stunning defeat on former world number one Lee Chong Wei 24-22, 22-20 in the first round of the All-England Badminton Championships.

B. Sai Praneeth is ranked 37th in the world.   -  S. Subramanium

Lee Chong Wei, the former world number who has been making a sensational comeback at the age of 33, suffered one of the biggest shocks of his career when he was dumped out in the first round of the All-England Open.

Lee's stunning defeat, by 24-22, 22-20, was inflicted by B. Sai Praneeth, an Indian ranked at number 37 in the world, who looked to have little chance when he slipped to deficits of 3-11 and 6-15 in the first game.

But once Lee made a few mistakes, Praneeth's hopes grew and his game showed itself capable of winning rallies of the highest standard. He was fast, sometimes brilliant in defence, and had nothing to lose when launching sudden flat attacks.

"I can't believe I lost in the first round," said Lee, who has won the All-England title three times. "I prepared very well and I won four tournaments recently. Maybe I have got a lot of pressure on myself to win this tournament. I made a lot of mistakes. Although I was also shocked at how well Praneeth played.”

"But it is all a learning process. I am sad to lose at a tournament like the All-England, but my aim is the Olympics."

Lee had looked to have regained control with his clever tactical varieties when he advanced to lead 17-12 in the second game. He also had game points at 20-19 in both games, with the first being foiled by Praneeth's diving defence and later missing his chance to take the match to a third by narrowly putting a smash wide.

Two rallies later, the 23-year-old from Andhra Pradesh took his first chance to win the match, making a sudden fast mid-court jab which forced Lee to block the shuttle long and caused Praneeth to hurl his racket away in joy.

"It's a big shock for me too," Praneeth grinned. "After the last rally I couldn't believe it. For a long time I have been waiting for a big result. I've had close results against top players before. It's a matter of confidence. This time, when I got the points I started to get the confidence."

The shock result will reverberate for some time. "This defeat means a lot to Malaysia," said Hendrawan, the Malaysian national coach. "Everyone has been putting pressure on him to win the (Olympic) gold medal. But this defeat means he is human."

The upset also appears to open up an inviting opportunity for Kenta Momota, the fourth-seeded Japanese player who won the Super Series finals in Dubai in December, to go all the way to the final, though he struggled to beat Christie Jonatan, an Indonesian qualifier, in three games.

Earlier world number one Chen Long and Olympic champion Lin Dan gave China an encouraging start as each carefully overcame tricky hurdles to reach the second round.

The two stars have seven All-England titles between them, and showed much of their experience in negotiating early difficulties with the cold conditions and winning in straight games against ambitious younger opponents.

Chen won 21-18, 21-12 against Kent Nishikoro, a 21-year-old Japanese who led early on, and was still in touch in the middle part of the second game before a little extra pace and variety from the titleholder killed off his challenge.

Lin won 21-17, 21-17 against Lee Dong Keun, a 25-year-old Korean who turned the match into a good scrap in many long rallies, but found his legendary opponent always playing better when it mattered.

The top seed in the women's singles, Carolina Marin, found herself in early difficulties. The world and All-England champion from Spain survived 25-23, 20-22, 21-15 against Bae Yeon Ju, the world number 15 from Korea, but had to save a game point in the first game and failed to convert two match points in the second.

K Srikanth, meanwhile, had a relatively easy outing, defeating Rajiv Ouseph of England 21-17, 21-12 in the first round. He is expected to face much tougher competition in the second round when he meets fourth seed Kento Momota of Japan, who is one of the favourites for the title this year.

In the women’s section, Saina Nehwal beat Michelle Li of Canada 21-17, 21-12. Saina faced very little problem from the Canadian, opening up a 15-9 lead in the opening game. Although Li won four consecutive games to narrow gap to 15-18, the Hyderabad girl managed to hold her own.

Li had a superb start to the second game, taking a 3-0 lead. But Saina staged a fine recovery before winning five consecutive points to wrap up the issue.

However, P.V. Sindhu crashed out in the first round, going down 21-18, 17-21, 12-21 to Porntip Buranaprasertsuk of Thailand after a tough fight.

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