H.S Prannoy’s dream run at the World Championships ended after he lost in three games to world number 3 Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand in the men’s singles semifinal to sign off with a bronze, extending India’s record of having at least one medallist in the showpiece since 2011.
The 31-year-old Prannoy squandered an opening game advantage and a 5-1 lead in the second as 22-year-old Vitidsarn, a three-time former world junior champion, showed his mental fortitude and produced better defence and attack to win 18-21 21-13 21-14 and seal a second successive final spot.
Notwithstanding the loss, it was a brilliant achievement for Prannoy as he became only the fifth Indian men’s singles player to win a World Championships medal.
Kidambi Srikanth (silver), Lakshya Sen (bronze), B Sai Praneeth (bronze) and Prakash Padukone (bronze) are the other medallists in men’s singles.
Two-time Olympic medallist PV Sindhu won five singles medals, including a gold in 2019, and Saina Nehwal (silver and bronze) claimed two, while the women’s doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa bagged a bronze in 2011 and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty clinched a bronze in 2022.
A day after knocking out Olympic gold medallist and defending champion Viktor Axelsen, ninth-seeded Prannoy, who claimed the Malaysia Masters title and a runner-up finish at the Australian Open this season, failed to find his best as his defence looked shaky, and his attack lacked consistency during the 76-minute clash.
Prannoy had lost to Vitidsarn in two tight games at the All England Championships last year and knew about the Thai’s defensive prowess and ability to retrieve.
India’s top-ranked men’s singles shuttler gave his everything and made a good start but signs of exhaustion set in from the second game, perhaps due to the three-game matches that he played in the last two days.
Prannoy started with his trademark straight smash but third seed Vitidsarn produced two winners to claw his way back at 3-3. A short lift was disposed off by Prannoy to make the scoreline 5-5.
The Indian tried to extend the rallies and looked to draw out errors from the Thai as he led 9-5 in a jiffy. Another brilliant cross-court smash and a backhand drop helped the Indian gain an 11-5 lead with seven straight points.
Prannoy controlled the rallies and found the backline with his delectable smashes.
Soon, he was up 16-8. The Indian’s shot selection was spot on as he followed up his shots at the net well and his attacking crosses made the Thai run from one flank to another.
Prannoy set up a point only to miss it with a casual-looking shot at the net, but he made up for it with an on-the-line return which gave him three game points. He smashed out next.
Vitidsarn took a medical time-out for a bleeding cut on his knee region. On resumption, a tight net shot gave the Indian the bragging rights.
After the change of sides, Prannoy stepped up the pace and produced a pirouette backhand smash, followed by another cross-court forehand to open up a 4-0 lead.
Vitidsarn cut the deficit to 4-5 with Prannoy making few errors, including two long shots. The Thai started using diagonal shots and strengthened his defence to draw parity at 5-5.
However, things went downhill for the Indian after that as he committed several errors. His shots started going wide and long too many times.
The Indian tried to reduce the deficit to 12-15 after pouncing on a weak return at the net following a lucky net chord. However, Vitidsarn soon moved to 18-13 with a superb hold-and-flick shot to set up a point.
Prannoy then sprayed into the net to hand over seven-game points to Vitidsarn, who converted after the Indian went long again.
The pace was again up in the early part of the decider with Vitidsarn producing three smashes to go 3-1 up. Two tired-looking shots gave Vitidsarn a 5-1 lead before Prannoy won a fast-paced rally with a backhand drive.
The Indian looked to step up the attack but struggled with his length at the backline as Vitidsarn led 7-3. A down-the-line jump smash from Prannoy and a long shot from Vitidsarn helped the Indians make it 7-8.
The young Thai, however, ensured a four-point advantage at the interval with a smash and reverse slice.
On resumption, a brilliant tumbling net shot was followed by two net errors as Vitidsarn’s lead swelled to 14-8.
A two-point burst helped Prannoy make it 10-14 before the Thai produced a delightful backhand return to leave Prannoy flat on the floor.
The Thai soon moved to 19-13, with Prannoy going to net and then wide. The Indian responded with a down-the-line smash. But another return went to net and the Thai had six match points and he converted with Prannoy smashing out again.
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