Eventually, a dream all-India final at the World Junior Championships failed to materialise. Sai Praneet and HS Prannoy, playing the semifinals in opposite halves of the men’s singles at Guadalajara, Mexico, lost their respective matches and with it hopes of a first Indian men’s singles gold in the World Juniors.
National junior champion Praneet lost 21-19 15-21 15-21 to Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, who had in the quarterfinals taken out the No.1 seed from China, Huang Yuxiang. Prannoy was outclassed in straight games, 13-21 9-21 by Kang Ji Wook from Korea. Compatriot PV Sindhu won the fifth place play-off, with a 21-17 21-19 result over Carolina Marin of Spain.
Despite the reverses in the men’s singles, it has been an outstanding fortnight for the Indian team. Earlier in the tournament, they had nearly taken out Denmark in the team event, losing 2-3 after leading 2-0. Praneet’s upset of Viktor Axelsen had been the highlight, for Axelsen is considered the next big name in Danish badminton after Jan O Jorgensen.
However, on Saturday (early Sunday morning in India), Praneet failed to repeat that victory. Nevertheless, national coach Gopichand was delighted with the performance, and is considering taking off Praneet from his doubles duties. “He played too many matches,” Gopi said. “Praneet played the singles and doubles - he reached the quarterfinals of the doubles with Pranav Chopra.
If you consider the number of matches he played, it’s still outstanding that he could make the semifinals. We will phase him out of the doubles. Pranav is developing well, and we’ll find another partner for him.”
The performance of the juniors is perhaps an indication of the capabilities of the next generation of Indian players. It was quite a surprise to the badminton world that China were dumped out of the men’s singles early — Prannoy accounted for Liu Kai and Axelsen for top seed Huang Yuxiang in the quarterfinals. PV Sindhu gave second seed Suo Di from China a stiff workout in the quarterfinals, and much is expected of the Indian U-16 national champion.
“To have two semifinalists is just great,” said Gopi. “You’re competing against the whole of the Chinese and Indonesian set-up. Overall, it has been a fantastic performance by the whole team. They’ve trained hard, and the results are showing.”