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Lakshya Sen was the lone Indian left at the Japan Open after he progressed to the semifinals, while HS Prannoy and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty bowed at the quarterfinal stage on Friday.
World no. 13 Lakshya continued his impressive run, notching up a straight-game win (21-15 21-19) over local hope Koki Watanabe, ranked 33rd, to make his third successive semifinals, following his exploits in Canada and the United States.
The 21-year-old from Almora, the reigning Commonwealth Games champion, will play fifth-seeded Indonesian Jonatan Christie, who defeated third seed Kunlavut Vitidsarn from Thailand.
HS Prannoy meanwhile, gave Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen an almighty scare, winning the first game and leading 7-1 in the second, before going down 21-19 18-21 8-21 in an epic 76-minute long battle.
The in-form men’s doubles duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, couldn’t produce their ‘A’ game, going down fighting 15-21 25-23 16-21 to Olympic champions Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lan of Chinese Taipei, thus ending the Indians’ winning streak.
Prannoy who has a 2-6 record against Axelsen was behind 1-5 in the first game before he could blink, with the Dane forcing the Indian into errors right from the off, which continued into a 11-8 lead at the interval. Just as Axelsen looked to be running with the game at 17-12, Prannoy raised his levels raining in some unreturnable smashes as he dragged it back to 17-17. A few long rallies saw the pair trade points and make it 19-19, before a brilliant drop across the court left Axelsen in a heap on the floor and Prannoy with game point – which we won with a measured floater to the back court.
Axelsen’s errors in judging Prannoy’s long shots continued in the opening point of the second game, and some excellent movement from the Indian saw him open up a 7-1 lead – with his Danish opponent looking increasingly nervous as he found the net multiple times. A fortunate net-cord saw the Olympic champion begin a mini-comeback, clawing his way back to 7-5 and then 9-7. Prannoy did lead 11-7 at the interval after Axelsen went wide and then long in the next two points.
Varying the tempo of the rallies, Prannoy was supreme in his offensive and defensive shots, moving Axelsen all over the court as he went on to lead 14-10. Axelsen voiced his frustrations at Pullela Gopichand coaching Prannoy even as he was ready to serve, which seemed to tilt the tie back in the Dane’s favour as he drew level at 15-15. A service fault when he led 16-15 had Axelsen yelling, but the top seed kept his nerve to lead 19-17. The Indian went narrowly wide to give Axelsen three game points, the first of which he saved as the Dane slipped on court, before Prannoy sent a return into the net to give Axelsen the second game 21-18.
With Axelsen opting for long rallies to tire out Prannoy and the Indian favouring the opposite, the pair traded points to begin the decider, level at 5-5. Axelsen raised his levels to take the next six points, as Prannoy was left visibly tired and paused after the long rallies, trailing 5-11 at the interval. The Indian had clearly run out of steam and offered little opposition as Axelsen raced to a 16-6 lead. It was a forgone conclusion from then on, as the Olympic champion closed out the third game to win the tie 19-21 21-18 21-8 in 76 minutes.
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 side 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 as soon things seemed like going down the 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.
With inputs from PTI