P Kashyap was on all fours on the court. A recurrent image through the length of his encounter against Son Wan Ho - either lunging to catch an incoming steep smash or through the impact of his own jump smashes. It was the former on most occasions. It was a lopsided match-up to start with - No 4-ranked Wan Ho turning out for defending champions Delhi Acers, pitted against Kashyap of Chennai Smashers, placed 58 spots below him. Though the truncated format lends itself little to rallies, this one served up quite a tantalizing few - the longest one lasting all of 45 shots. The Korean, who headed into the match with a 5-2 head-to head edge over Kashyap eventually prevailed 12-10, 11-4.
Kashyap, who lost out on some crucial months last year including the Olympics following a knee injury, flitted around the court effortlessly at the start to open up a 4-1 lead. The unobtrusive Korean didn't look anxious. He didn't pump his fist either after flinging a 337 kmph smash to draw level at 8-8 with a lunging Kashyap falling face forward. They last faced each other in the semifinals of the Korea Masters in December last year, a tournament which Wan Ho went on to win.
Kashyap's errors had begun to pile, clearing the net turning into his primary trouble area - his attempted deceptive drop shots and wily returns going awry. The timing of these errors proved to be his undoing. Sample this: With the first game delicately poised at 10-10, Kashyap goes for a jump smash from the back of the court with the bird taking a promising flight before landing into the net. 10-11. He followed it up with yet another half-hearted return which finds the yet again. 10-12. Kashyap was left nodding his head in disgust. Probably kicking himself within.
The second game was a blur for the Indian. Even before he could get himself together, he went into the break trailing 2-6. A couple of loopy returns, one coming at 3-6, and the match seemed to be rapidly slipping out of his hands. The cheers in the Chennai camp, though were still loud and incessant. There was little to punctuate his pain or predicament. That's probably where the beauty of a format like this lies.
Crowds milled around the venue ahead of the start, some curious onlookers .also pushed their luck by trying to make their way in without tickets, only to be sent away by the guards stationed at the entrance. Making a five-day pit stop in the city, the Premier Badminton League (PBL) caravan will next move to its final destination - New Delhi - for the business end of the tournament. Though the home team - Bengaluru Blasters - were slated to play in the latter half of the evening, the crowds started trickling in early. They couldn't, after all, rule out the bonus of watching Olympic silver medalist PV Sindhu on court.