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BWF World C’ships: Srikanth enters finals, Sen signs off with bronze

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Kidambi Srikanth etched his name in the history books by becoming the first Indian man to reach the finals of the BWF World Badminton Championships

Kidambi Srikanth etched his name in the history books by becoming the first Indian man to reach the finals of the BWF World Badminton Championships with a come-from-behind win over compatriot Lakshya Sen here on Saturday.

In a historic all-Indian men’s singles semifinal, it was the 28-year-old Srikanth who had the last laugh as he saw off Sen 17-21 21-14 21-17 in a thrilling contest that lasted an hour and nine minutes.

While former world number one Srikanth has now given himself a real chance of winning the top prize, Sen signed off with a maiden bronze, joining the legendary Prakash Padukone (bronze in 1983) and B Sai Praneeth (bronze in 2019) as the Indian medal winners at the showpiece.

India’s P V Sindhu has won two silvers, besides two bronze and the coveted gold in 2019, while the women’s doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa had also won a bronze, in 2011.

Also, Saina Nehwal has a silver and a bronze to her name in the marquee event.

It was a huge moment not only for Indian badminton but also for world No. 14 Srikanth, who had endured injuries and a loss of form which saw him miss the Tokyo Olympics this year, since winning four Super Series titles in 2017.

The two engaged in some exciting rallies with Srikanth being a step ahead initially but Lakshya managed to claw back at 4-4 and then at 6-6 with some superb shots.

The 20-year-old grabbed the lead at 8-7 with Srikanth going wide but he soon drew parity with a cross-court smash.

Srikanth conceded two points with two nervous looking shots as Lakshya grabbed a three-point advantage at the break with a precise return at the backline.

Srikanth’s aggressive strokes were negated by his wide returns as Lakshya maintained his three-point lead after the interval.

The two played some incredible rallies with Srikanth making a few superb retrievals to make it 16-16 but he rushed into a net shot and then hit wide and long as Lakshya again went into the lead at 19-17.

Srikanth’s another return going wide gave Lakshya three match points and he pocketed the opening game.

The two continued to play at a breathtaking pace after the change of sides with Srikanth paying the price for his unforced errors.

Lakhsya was simply sensational as he made some astonishing saves and also dished out a tight net game to move to a 8-4 lead.

The experienced Srikanth kept his calm and reeled off six of the next seven points.

He won a long rally and then unleashed two smashes and pushed the shuttle back to level the scores at 9-9. Another straight down the line smash gave Srikanth a two-point advantage at the mid-game interval.

At 13-10, Srikanth sent the shuttle long twice to allow Lakshya narrow the gap. Lakshya erred with his length and also conceded a point at the net, while Srikanth unleashed a smash to move to 16-12.

Lakshya won the next two points but Srikanth outwitted his compatriot in another excruciating rally. Lakshya then committed too many unforced errors to hand over six game points to Srikanth, who roared back into the contest with another cross-court smash.

Srikanth started the decider with a delightful drop shot and then dominated another fast-paced rally but a few errors allowed Lakshya to make it 4-4.

The duo moved neck-and-neck to 7-7 before Srikanth sent the shuttle wide after a 43-shot rally.

Another wide shot from Srikanth, and Lakshya moved to a three-point advantage at the mid-game interval with a smash.

Srikanth used his angled returns to trouble his younger rival, making it 10-11 after the break. Lakshya, however, again managed to open up a three-point lead with his great defence and an attacking return.

Srikanth claimed two crucial points and then Lakshya committed a rare unforced errors and allowed his senior opponent to make it 13-13.

Srikanth grabbed a slender 16-15 lead after winning another energy-sapping rally before making it 19-16 with a cross-court smash.

A tired Srikanth missed the line next but Lakshya’s deceptive shot then missed its mark to hand three match points to Srikanth, who sealed it with a body return, which Lakshya sent to the net.