HS Prannoy lost a closely-fought battle against Japan's Kodai Naraoka in his opening men's singles Group A match at the BWF World Tour Finals in Bangkok on Wednesday.
The world No 12 Indian recovered strongly after the opening game and kept fighting in the decider before three unforced errors in the last three points saw him lose 11-21, 21-9, 17-21 in the hour-long contest. The neck-to-neck third game itself was almost as long as the first two put together.
It was his second defeat to the Japanese rising star, having lost their only meeting in Singapore Open in July.
Prannoy, who was playing with a heavily strapped right knee, tried to make up for his lack of movement and speed with his superior net play. After being overpowered the first game and change of ends, he played smart badminton with his limited range in the front court to force a decider. But he was constantly playing catch up in the decider, with both players putting up a splendid display of badminton, till a few nervous points proved to be decisive.
"I thought I was in control for most part of the game but after 15-15 in the third game, I thought I started rushing and made errors from my end. Probably, it was a bad strategy, I should have been more patient," the 30-year-old said after the match.
"Coming into the good side (after change of ends in decider), I could have been more patient. I was doubting myself in couple of areas in third game. May be lack of match practice made it uncomfortable."
Prannoy will next face China's Lu Guang Zu, an opponent he had lost to in his only meeting at French Open this year, before taking on world No 1 Viktor Axelsen. "All the matches are going to be tough but I have to shrug it off and get ready for tomorrow's match." The 30-year-old is the only Indian competing at the season-ending event where the Top 8 players of the year qualify.
How the match played out
In the opening game, Naroaka jumped to a 6-3 early lead before Indian narrowed it down to 6-7 but the Japanese went into the mid-game interval with a healthy five-point advantage when Prannoy's shot went long. Naraoka unleashed some angled returns to build up his lead in the second half and with Prannoy not able to lunge forward due to his knee niggle, he quickly pocketed the opening game in 16 minutes.
After the change of sides, Prannoy came up with a different plan to upset the rhythm of his opponent. He kept the shuttle on the back court and extracted errors out of Naraoka, pushing him from the front of his court. The ploy worked as he quickly grabbed a 11-5 lead at the interval. The Indian was able to stay in rallies and dictate the terms from the side of the court.
In the decider, both the players looked to step up the pace in the rallies but Naraoka had better control as he led 5-2. Prannoy then reeled off four straight points with the help of a couple of steep returns. The game was neck and neck thereafter, with the Japanese building a slender, two-point lead only for the Indian catch up. However, two wide shots from the Indian meant he went into the break trailing by two points.
After the interval, Naraoka stayed a step ahead in the rallies even though Prannoy managed to claw back at 14-14 and 17-17 till a spate of errors saw Naraoka clinch it and lie spread-eagled on the court in celebration.
With inputs from PTI
The 2022 BWF Finals will be available in India on Voot and Sports 18.