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Momota ends Sai Praneeth's dream run in World Championships

The Week 2019-08-24 00:00:00
Japan's Kento Momota in action during the semifinal of the men's singles match against India's Sai Praneeth in the BWF World Championships, in Basel | Reuters

India's B. Sai Praneeth lost to world number one Kento Momota 13-21, 8-21 in the semifinal of the BWF World Championships. The Indian shuttler exits the tournament with a memorable bronze medal, and though he beat two top-ten ranked players on the way to the semifinal, he fell to the brilliance and ruthlessness of Japanese.

Praneeth became the first Indian male shuttler in 36 years to be guaranteed a medal at the Worlds, after he pulled off a surprise win over world no. 4 Jonatan Christie in the quarterfinal on Friday. The last man to do it was Prakash Padukone, who won a bronze in 1983.

Momota came into the game as the clear favourite, against a player ranked much lower to him. Praneeth, who prefers to play short, quick points, began the game strongly against the left-handed Momota. The Japanese's sharp inch-perfect attacks stretched Praneeth, who defended it well to collect some crucial points. At half time of the first game, it was 11-10 to Momota, an equal contest.

But the All England champion aggressively asserted his dominance and coasted to seal the first game, losing only three points in the second half. Praneeth misjudged several shots in the process, hitting the net repeatedly.

Praneeth knew that if he was to pull off an upset, he would have to up his game by several notches. He began the second game showing glimpses of a comeback, but Momota pulled ahead yet again, pushing the boundaries and squeezing his smashes into the corners of his opponent's court. The half of the second game ended a one-sided 11-3 in Momota's favour.

In the end, Praneeth's defensive display turned out to be no match for Momota's vicious attacks. Once Momota found his rhythm in the second game, there was no stopping him. Praneeth grabbed a few points as the game drew to a close, but by then the victory was already out of reach, thanks to Momota's well-drilled moves. The game ended in 40 minutes.

While Momota will go on to play the final tomorrow against the winner of the other semifinal later today between Anders Antonsen and K. Wangcharoen, Praneeth will have to settle for his historic bronze.

The memorable feat for Praneeth, 27, comes a week after he was chosen for the Arjuna Award. Praneeth, who had won his first two meetings with Momota back in 2013, had lost the three that followed. Momota has been in rampaging form since the start of 2017 and has already won five titles this year, including the All England Championships.

Prior to the semifinal, Sai Praneeth had not dropped a single set in the tournament, but neither did Momota. The Japanese is the world number one by quite some distance from the second, while Praneeth is not even the highest-ranked Indian. Kidambi Srikanth (10) and Sameer Verma (14) are ranked higher than Praneeth (19).

Earlier, in the first match of the day, P.V. Sindhu crushed Chen Yu Lei 21-7, 21-14 in the semifinals of the women's singles. Sindhu and Praneeth had guaranteed two medals for India this time after they made it through the quarterfinals on Friday. The finals of both the men's and women's singles will be played on August 25.