Dubai: Self-belief and team sprit rescued India from the brink to essay one of the biggest wins against Hong Kong China in the quarter-finals of the Blue Ocean Dubai 2023 Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championship at Expo-City Dubai Exhibition Centre on Friday.
Defending champions China overcame a scare against Malaysia to win 3-2 and book a meeting with first-time semi-finalists India on Saturday. There were more shocks earlier in the day when Korea knocked out Indonesia 3-1, while Thailand shocked second-seeded Japan 3-2 in the other quarter-finals
Pressing the panic button
On the big stage, it’s all about drama and the chief artists of India’s escape to victory were the men’s doubles pair of Dhruv Kapila and Chirag Shetty. Trailing 2-0, the experienced Indian duo regained their composure to win 20-22, 21-16, 21-11 to ease the Indian team’s nerves to bring the score to 2-1 in Hong Kong’s favour.
“It was a do or die match for us, down 2-0 we would have liked at least one point before we go out there to play. We really wanted to take it till the very end and given ourselves the chance,” said Kapila, after winning the key contest. “We panicked a bit when it was 17-13, in the second and third we just thought of keeping it simple, should not think too much and just control the game,” he added, with the vuvuzela and the drum beats from the Indian cheer leaders including Sindhu, Prannoy and all the seniors, raising several decibels more.
Explaining the celebration, Shetty said “We started these type of celebrations at the Thomas Cup and since then it’s always been a part of the team events. If you want to win such matches, even if you are good on paper, the support from the team plays a big role.”
Then it depended on Indian ace P.V. Sindhu to level the scores and the two-time Olympic medallist raised her game in the second and third to race to victory against 20-year-old Saloni Samirbhai Mehta, who last visited her grandparents three years ago in Mumbai, 16-21, 21-7, 21-9.
At 2-2 the momentum clearly shifted towards India and even Hong Kong must have rued the missed opportunity to seal the game at 3-0. Gayathri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly, backed by a passionate team support, with the accompaniment of vuvuzela and drums, and a full crowd support raised their game to the hilt to decimate their rivals with speed and accuracy to win 21-13 21-12, triggering wild celebrations from the team and the fans.
“This is one of the memorable games for us. The atmosphere was amazing and we really got motivated,” said Gayathri. “I really enjoyed playing today, now we are in the semi-finals, so we are happy,” said the daughter of legendary Gopichand. “My father’s deeds have added no pressure on my performance.”
Jolly, who had resorted to screaming during the final encounter, had started staying calm only when team India was closer to victory. “When the match was going our way, Gayathri said calm down. Only a few more points are there.”
Indians were pushed into the corner by Hong Kong’s opening mixed doubles team of Lee Chun Hei Reginald and NG Tsz Yau, who defeated India’s Tanisha Crasto and Ishaan Bhatnager in straight sets. After leading the first game 11-1, Tanisha and Ishaan, irked by a few close calls that went against them, lost their focus and lost their rhythm that they could not find again.
“If I had to take one learning from today’s match, then it is to stay cool. Need to be more calm and composed, which could cost us the rubber,” said the Dubai-born Tanisha.
India’s new sensation Lakshya Sen was outsmarted by Hong Kong’s NG Ka Long Angus.
“The first game I played too flatter and he was good at flat game and is fast on court. So the second I tried to change my pace and lower my momentum and moved him around more,” Angus said on his tactics that took team closer to the semi-finals.
Had I played the first match, I would have given the points, Sindhu
Two-time Olympic medallist and 2019 world champion, played a different role before bring Team India level with Hong Kong 2-2. A cheerleader to ease the pressure on her teammates.
“There is always pressure and it is quarter-finals. If you lose three matches, then you are out. So it is important for us to cheer the team from the first match and first point,” Sindhu said after beating Saloni Samirbhai Mehta in three sets.
“I am playing her for the first time. I made a lot of mistakes and gave her the first set, but I was confident that I can finish the match. The next two were comparatively easier than the first,” added the Indian ace.
What was her thought when India were trailing 2-0 and the men’s doubles taking to the court?
“I was confident about Lakshya Sen and with the men’s doubles. I actually thought, if I had played my first game, I would given the first point. We have done really well and it’s 2-all now,” she said before joining the team and play the drum beat in the decider.
Team India coach R.M.V. Guru Sai Dutt said: “It is a historic moment for India. The momentum was carried from the Thomas Cup title win; all the boys have been here. All the players have stepped up as a team and gave their best. There has been a lot of emotion running high; but the players managed to keep the calm and win their matches despite we were 0-2 down."
World No 4 Lee Zee Jia continued his amazing run of form to give Malaysia the first point, though his efforts went in vain against China, losing 3-2, in the quarter-finals of the Blue Ocean Dubai 2023 Badminton Asia Championship at Expo-City Dubai Exhibition Centre on Friday.
Playing the final rubber, Feng Yan Zhe and Huang Dong Ping, the Olympic mixed doubles Olympic champions, defeated Malaysia’s Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing 21-15, 25-23 to win the tie.
Malaysia’s Pearly Tan and Thinnah Muralitharan level the scores 2-2, winning the women’s doubles.
“Feel happy to get the one point. I am really happy that we did it,” said Tan.
“We just believed in ourselves more and during the game we talked between ourselves to motivate ourselves. The trust each other has helped us a lot, really excited,” added Muralitharan.
In the morning games , South Korea entered the semi-finals after defeating bronze medallist Indonesia 3-1. Korea, the silver medallist in 2017 edition, rode on the winning shows from Kim Ga Eun, Kim Won Ho and Na Sung Seung and Baek Ha Na and Lee So Hee to defeat the badminton giants.
"I was nervous going into the match, my body was stiff. But once I played some rallies, I got my rhythm. I am proud of myself to earn the important points for my team," said Kim, who beat Indonesia’s Putri Kusuma Wardani 21-17,14-21, 21-12, and aims to make the Asian Games podium this year.
Meanwhile, 2017 bronze medallist Thailand stunned former champions Japan to enter the last four stage.
"It was a tough match. I am happy to get the important point for my team as the captain. Japan is a strong team especially in women's singles they have really good players. I tried to match Ohori's (Aya) pace and tried to control the shuttle," said Busanan Ongbamrungphan who gave Thailand a 2-0 lead winning the women’s singles rubber 21-19, 18-21, 21-17 over Aya Ohori.