It was a case of déjà vu for the Indian badminton team as they fought tooth and nail but could not get past defending champions Indonesia, falling 2-3 in the semi-finals of the Badminton Asia Team Championship.
They won bronze by virtue of making the penultimate round and thus matched their performance in the 2016 edition, where they had fallen in the semi-final to the same opponents.
Lakshya Sen won his singles fixture, as did Subhankar Dey, but the former lost the doubles with Chirag Shetty as B Sai Praneeth and the pair of MR Arjun-Dhruv Kapila also lost by a combination of injuries and poor composure.
B Sai Praneeth pulls out midway
The Badminton Asia Team Championship semi-final tie started off in poor fashion for the Indian badminton team as B Sai Praneeth walked off with an injury from his singles match against world no. 5 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting after losing the first game 6-21.
The match began in a competitive manner as both players outsmarted each other with some clever shot-making but the Indonesian went into the break leading 11-4 after winning several easy points.
During the break, B Sai Praneeth was seen clutching his hamstring while speaking with the Indian badminton coaches. However, he battled on, his movement very obviously restricted as he hardly stretched and could not even jump to hit smashes for fear of aggravating the apparent tear.
After losing the first game, the top-ranked Indian badminton star spoke to the umpire and shook hands with Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, signalling the end of the match to leave India trailing 0-1.
Lakshya Sen hits back
India drew level with Indonesia in the next match though as the 18-year-old Lakshya Sen stunned world no. 7 and 2018 Asian Games gold-medalist, Jonatan Christie with a straight games 21-18, 22-20 victory.
The teenager, who had got the Indian badminton team level in a thrilling win over Thailand in the quarter-finals, was calm and composed throughout the encounter. He took time to plan out his shots, not rushing to hit smash winners or try frequent drops, as he smartly negotiated the threat from the 22-year-old Indonesian.
After winning the first game, Lakshya Sen was in control for most of the second, garnering several points but his composure deserted him as he inched closer to victory. The Indian badminton player looked eager to finish off the match and in that process, squandered two points, including a match point.
At 19-20, Jonatan Christie deliberately slowed things down, taking a break to wipe his sweat and asked the court to be cleaned. It worked as he won back a point but he subsequently sent his serve wide and then netted a return to give Lakshya Sen his second singles win in two days.
The Indian badminton duo had given the team a whiff of chance, from which India capitalised, on Friday but they were overwhelmed by the Indonesian pair in the first game as they gave it up tamely.
However, they came roaring back in the second, interchanging their positions at the nets to good effect and outmanoeuvred Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan to win it.
The deciding game saw the Indian badminton pair in the lead for a long time but like Lakshya Sen, they committed unforced errors to allow the Indonesians to come back into the match and the latter’s experience in crunch situations helped them get through.
A tale of two matches
Subhankar Dey pulled off the second upset of the day as he overcame the challenge of Shesar Hiren Rhustavito 21-17, 21-15.
The 26-year-old Indian, playing his first match of the Badminton Asia Team Championship in place of Kidambi Srikanth, was all over the court as he hardly allowed his opponent to get his eye in.
Subhankar Dey swooped left and right to recover smashes and displayed quick reflexes to surprise Shesar Hiren Rhustavito in the two games and wrapped up the victory in 49 minutes.
The final fixture saw the makeshift pair of Lakshya Sen-Chirag Shetty lose 6-21, 13-21 to Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo.
Chirag Shetty was the specialist doubles player in the fixture and he was constantly seen passing on instructions to his younger colleague, who was playing his second match of the day.
However, playing two youngsters against the top-ranked men’s doubles pair was always a recipe for disaster and the match panned out exactly as expected. The Indonesian pair clearly looked more comfortable, having played with each other for a long time and were no match for the Indian badminton team.
India, however, will return home with a bronze medal for their efforts at the Badminton Asia Team Championship.