Lakshya Sen progressed to the semifinals to be the lone Indian survivor at the Japan Open Super 750 badminton tournament following the ouster of compatriots HS Prannoy and doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty on Friday.
World number 13 Sen registered a 21-15, 21-19 victory over local player Koki Watanabe, ranked 33rd, to make his third successive semifinals, following his exploits in Canada and the United States.
The reigning Commonwealth Games champion will play fifth-seeded Indonesian Jonatan Christie in the semifinals.
World number 10 Prannoy too could have joined Sen in the last four but he squandered an opening game win and a 7-1 advantage in the second to eventually suffer a heart-breaking 21-19, 18-21, 8-21 loss against world number one Viktor Axelsen of Denmark.
Men’s doubles duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty too went down fighting 15-21, 25-23, 16-21 to Olympic champions Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lan of Chinese Taipei to end their 12-match winning streak.
A 2021 world championship bronze medallist, Sen, who had won the Canada Open Super 500 early this month, opened up a 5-3 lead early on before moving to 11-7 at the break.
The Indian didn’t have much problem negotiating the Japanese and soon sealed the opening game with two cross-court returns on both sides of the court.
After the change of sides, Watanabe tried to inject some pace in the rallies but Sen looked in control and moved to 3-2 with a lovely cross-court drop. A 42-shot rally ended with Sen’s backhand crashing into the net as Watanabe turned it around to lead 5-3 before consolidating it further at 7-3.
The Japanese strengthened his defense and things seemed like going downhill for Sen, who trailed 7-14.
However, the Indian scripted a turnaround, drawing his opponent to the net and using the drop shots to good effect. He soon turned the tables at 18-17 with a cross court smash.
With two returns on his opponent’s backhand, Sen gained one-match point before producing another precise return at the back-line and then threw his racquet in celebration.
The Axelsen vs Prannoy duel lived up to the expectations with the two producing some mindboggling rallies.
Prannoy, who had beaten the Dane twice in the last three meetings, slowly fought his way back to clinch the opener and also conjured up hopes of an upset as he raced to an overwhelming 7-1 lead, only to run out of steam in the end.
Axelsen used his acute angles and steep returns to be 4-1 up. But Prannoy kept breathing down his neck, reaching 6-8 with a disguised backhand push.
Axelsen was called for a rare service error but he won another exciting rally to move to 13-9. Prannoy produced some steep returns on his rival’s backhand but Axelsen would dive to return everything.
Axelsen’s ability to make Prannoy twist and turn with his diagonal net shots, and jump smashes with precision at the backline and pounce on anything weak from the Indian meant he held the lead 17-13.
Soon, Prannoy produced a sensational down-the-line jump smash and with Axelsen sending one long, he narrowed the lead to 15-17. Prannoy levelled the score at 17-17 and let out a scream when Axelsen found the net.
A cross-net shot and a net duel later, Axelsen had once again regained a two-point lead but he smashed out next as Prannoy landed a ferocious backhand to again draw parity at 19-19.
An extraordinary cross net shot saw Prannoy grab a one-point advantage and he made it count with a precision return with Axelsen making a judgement error.
A pumped-up Prannoy looked in full control after the change of sides while Axelsen was a bit shaky as he made judgement errors in the backline and committed unforced errors to allow the Indian lead 4-0 and then 7-1.
However, Axelsen reeled off four straight points and then won a 33-shot rally to narrow it down to 7-9. But he hit wide twice as Prannoy went into the interval with a 11-7 cushion.
The fast-paced rallies continued as Axelsen’s defence and his precise smashes helped him to claw back at 15-15. Axelsen was called once again for a service fault but he didn’t let it rattle him, moving to 18-17.
Prannoy then went wide to hand over three game points to Axelsen, who lost his footing and sent one wide. But, Prannoy sprayed one to the net next as the Dane made a roaring comeback into the contest.
The decider started on an even keel at 4-4 but slowly Axelsen broke away with a run of seven straight points as Prannoy looked tired, making him more error-prone. His shots started going to net and out as Axelsen zoomed to 16-6 in a jiffy.
Another steep straight smash, followed by a cross-court jump smash took Axelsen closer to the win. A Prannoy smash marginally missing the backline gave 12 match points to the Dane, who converted it after the Indian pushed one to the net.
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