K Srikanth overcame a drop in concentration, his own erratic play and a match point before upsetting world number one Son Wan Ho 21-15 14-21 24-22 in an hour and 12 minutes to reach the men’s singles final of the Indonesia Superseries Premier in Jakarta on Saturday.
This would be Srikanth’s second consecutive Superseries final after he lost to compatriot B Sai Praneeth in the Singapore Open last month. However, the possibility of another all-Indian final was shattered earlier in the morning when giant killer HS Prannoy squandered five match points before going down to Japanese qualifier Kazumasa Sakai 17-21 28-26 21-18 in the other semifinal.
And the second semi-final looked like going in the same direction when Srikanth lost focus midway in the second game and made a flurry of unforced errors to take the match into the decider. But the world number 22, who last won a Superseries title back in 2015, kept his nerves when it mattered the most to reach his fourth final at this level.
The opening game was a breeze for Srikanth as he raced to a 12-6 lead with a flurry of smashes and then maintained the advantage to pocket the game in just 17 minutes.
And it looked like the world number 22 Indian took a 13-10 lead in the second game with Son struggling to handle his opponent’s domination at the net. But Srikanth’s game unravelled thereafter as the former India Open champion made a few unforced errors while going for the kill and lost 11 of the next 12 points to take the match into the decider.
Similar to the first two games, the decider was hardly a high quality encounter with both players struggling to keep the shuttle in play for a long time with a drift in the court.
There were occasions when Srikanth raised his game to play his trademark half smashes and net dribbles but followed them up with a few sloppy points which allowed Son to take a handy 13-10 lead.
But with the conditions making things difficult for both players, the end game boiled down to who could keep their nerves and it was the 24-year-old Indian who came up triumphant.
Srikanth was willing to take the risks when under pressure and did just that to save a match point with a brave line call. Son challenged the decision but the shuttle had landed out.
The Indian shuttler was guilty of missing two himself afterwards but did not quell the aggression or try to play safe and the approach paid dividends when a defensive push on Son’s tap landed in no-man’s land to take him to the summit clash.
Heart break for Prannoy
Earlier, it was a so-near-yet-so-far feeling for HS Prannoy against Sakai.
It was a heart-breaking loss for the 24-year-old Indian shuttler who was making a comeback to the international circuit after an injury break of three months and had made it to his maiden Superseries semifinals after beating two former world number one – Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia and Chen Long of China – in the earlier rounds.
Prannoy began from where he left off against Olympic and world champion Chen Long, showing the patience to build rallies and waiting for the opportunities to go for those expansive overhead winners.
The 24-year-old was quick off the blocks as he opened up a 9-3 lead after the start. But with both players bagging points in a cluster, Prannoy could hardly afford to relax. The Indian dominated the net exchanges and that was enough for him to take the opening game.
Fortunes changed with sides in the second game as Sakai moved to a more comfortable side of the court and quickly took a 5-1 lead. The Japanese looked more comfortable playing his attacking strokes in the second game and seemed to gain control when he took an 11-5 lead into the break.
But just as on Friday, Prannoy wasn’t willing to give up and his ability to hang in there when things were not going his way helped him crawl back into the game one point at a time.
Trailing 17-12, the world number 25 took seven of the next nine points to take the lead for the first time in the second game and it looked like he would finish off the context when he earned his first match point at 20-19.
But with just one point separating them, both Prannoy and Sakai were involved in a battle of nerves as they even got their coaches on edge with a constant exchange of serves. Prannoy earned five match points but failed to convert any of them and the Japanese converted his third game point to take the match into a decider.
It looked like Prannoy had started to tire out in the third game and was guilty of quite a few uncharacteristic mistakes as Sakai raced to a 6-2 lead. The Indian managed to fight back to 9-10 but it was a second series of errors that gave his opponent a lead of five points after a change of ends that cost him the match.
Prannoy was playing catch up from there on and though he managed to save one match point at 20-17, it was not to be his day.