HS Prannoy demonstrated the skills of a seasoned top-ten player, elevating his game and delivering assertive smashes to secure victory against a lower-ranked opponent. Meanwhile, Lakshya Sen displayed the fearlessness of a confident sophomore, reminiscent of an impressive freshman year, effortlessly quashing upstarts and delivering a one-sided scoreline. In contrast, Kidambi Srikanth adhered to his typical style, marked by numerous errors, a coaching bench displaying horror, and a legion of followers questioning their life choices and experiencing poor cardiac health. Nevertheless, Srikanth managed to deliver some of badminton’s most beautiful strokes, seemingly unaffected by the surrounding challenges.
In a crucial match on Saturday, Srikanth bounced back to defeat the relatively unknown Korean Cho Geonyeop with a score of 12-21, 21-16, 21-14, securing India’s place in the men’s team badminton gold medal match at the Hangzhou Asian Games. Despite skepticism about Srikanth’s ability to defeat a World No. 169, especially given his history of losses against obscure players, he backed himself in this decisive match for a spot in the Asian Games final. During the final game, he played like the Kidambi Srikanth of 2014, leaving Chinese shores after defeating Lin Dan and garnering attention as the most promising 21-year-old.
While Srikanth’s game may now be perceived as a broken promise, Cho had reason to believe in his chances. With the team tie score at 2-2, featuring two singles victories for India and two doubles victories for Korea, the pressure on Srikanth was evident. Despite losing the opening game 21-12, he rallied in the deciding match, playing 21 points reminiscent of the 2014 vintage Srikanth, when he left Chinese shores with significant victories. Possibly, the repeated sight of Cho executing the scything cross-kill follow-up, a mirror image of Srikanth’s signature shot, may have triggered a sense of patent infringement, prompting Srikanth to wake up. Initially, he sought the umpire’s intervention to penalize Cho for clipping the net. However, eventually, his ego led him to execute his own beautiful net shot.
Starting the second game, Srikanth adjusted his attack to a more plausible approach, reducing reckless errors to secure a lead. His net accuracy improved, and his defensive resilience in long rallies strengthened. He seemed poised to give himself a chance in the rally to unleash his wonderful strokes by staying alive in it. Cho’s determination waned in both the second and third games as Srikanth expanded his lead. However, it required significant effort and retrieving before Srikanth could charge the net, execute the dribble, and scoop with the fist facing upwards, resulting in the shuttle perfectly hair pinning over the tape. Srikanth’s confidence in dominating the net was evident, but he allowed several imperfections and flaws in his game to be magnified before ultimately prevailing.
There has been much discussion regarding why Srikanth is participating in the individual badminton event at the Asian Games rather than Sen, who lost a fair trial to the former. Sen showcased perfection, defeating Lee Yungyu 21-7, 21-9, giving India a 2-1 lead and providing a stark contrast to Srikanth. Sen had ample time to choose a spot to land his round-the-head smashes, leaving Lee immobile. Despite Lee’s reputation as a giant killer for defeating Tze Yong and Jonatan Christie to eliminate Malaysia and Indonesia, Sen was unfazed, entangling Lee with his relentless attack. The scenario turned dramatic when Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty suffered a 21-13, 26-24 defeat against world champions Seo-Kang, resulting in a 1-1 scoreline for India. It was evident that the doubles category failed to secure a point on that day. Dhruv-Arjun couldn’t secure a win in the second doubles, leading to a 2-2 tie. Korea takes pride in maintaining competitiveness in team events with two guaranteed doubles points, relying on their singles players to clinch the third point. In four out of the five matches, their shuttlers seriously troubled the Indian team.