India created history of sorts by registering its first ever win over top-seeded China as a team in the last 30 years when it notched up a 3-2 win in the men’s preliminary league phase in Happening Hyderabad Badminton Asia team championship at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium here on Thursday afternoon.
For the host, Kidambi Srikanth finally got the better of Tian Houwei with a 21-11, 21-17 win in the first singles of the morning.
The World No. 9 from India showed the desired ability to score the big points the few times he was under pressure to ward off the challenge of the Houwei, who is ranked World No. 8. Later, Srikanth he was really happy beating the Chinese opponent for the first time in six meetings even while reminding that he was really playing well, pulling out close matches of late.
“Playing in front of home crowd has that advantage definitely and I enjoyed this win thoroughly,” he said. “I am used to playing the first singles in a team event for close to two years and I don’t feel any extra pressure because of that,” he remarked.
However, the men’s doubles combination of Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy went down fighting to make the scores one-all in the team event. But soon after, World No. 25 Ajay Jayaram pulled off another big upset, shocking World No. 11 Wang Zhengming with a 22-20, 15-21, 21-18 win.
“It is always a great feeling to beat a strong Chinese player. I am really happy with the way I played today. I think I managed well to play the big points in a very close contest,” remarked Jayaram later. “Yes, the Indians have no more the fear of facing Chinese players now. This is because of these kind of wins in recent times,” Ajay pointed out.
“There was lot of drift and it was very difficult to control the shuttle. And I did let pressure come off on to me with some bad pushes at the net. But I decided not to give away easy points.
Then, the focus shifted to the men’s doubles combination of Pranaav Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar. They did put up a terrific fight against the Chinese combination of Wang Yilv and Zhang Wen before going down 10-21, 18-21.
In the decider at 16-18, the Indian pair did get a lucky net point which was followed up by a big smash from Pranaav to level the scores. Just when the Indian camp was expecting the improbable, Pranaav returned into the net and next saw his backhand fall into his own court to the dismay of the Indian camp.
In the decider, World No. 27 H. S. Prannoy ensured that it was a perfect script for the home team with a fluent 21-14, 21-10 win over Shi Yuqi in 33 minutes.
“I was not tense. I knew his game and better prepared today to face him than in the Indonesian Open last time when I lost to him. He is not the typical Chinese player [who] keeps changing the shuttle and rushes to the net,” Prannoy remarked later.
“We were confident of pulling off this win today given the fact that there were so many quality singles players in our team. And, it is a great feeling to be part of an Indian team which beat China, though it is without the star players like Lin Dan and Chen Long,” Prannoy explained.
For his part, chief national coach Pullela Gopi Chand pointed that as this important win came midway through the event, the celebrations will have to be low key. “It is important we keep pulling ourselves together in the next three days for winning the title is the target,” he said.
“[It is] too early to say that the Indians will be more confident in beating the Chinese in the future team event. There are lot of factors involved. For instance, it is clear that our boys enjoyed playing in home conditions,” Gopi observed.
Men: India bt China 3-2 (Kidambi Srikanth bt Tian Houwei 21-11, 21-17; Manu Attri & B. Sumeeth Reddy lost to Li Junhui & Qiu Zihan 20-22, 11-21; Ajay Jayaram bt Wang Zhengming 22-20, 15-21, 21-18; Pranaav Chopra & Akshay Dewalkar lost to Wang Yilv & Zhang Wen 10-21, 18-21; H.S. Prannoy bt Shi Yuqi 21-14, 21-10).
Korea bt Hong Kong China 3-2.
Women: China bt Malaysia 4-1.
Thailand bt Chinese Taipei 4-1.