H S Prannoy overcomes injury and Rasmus Gemke in deciding match to steer India home
H S Prannoy produced a lion-hearted effort in the deciding fifth match as India’s men's badminton team scripted history by reaching the title round in the Thomas Cup final for the first time with a 3-2 victory over Denmark in an edge-of-the-seat semi-final, in Bangkok, on Friday.
The Indian team, which never went past the semi-finals after 1979, showed tremendous fighting spirit as it recovered from a match down to outwit the 2016 champions.
While World Championships silver medallist Kidambi Srikanth and the world number 8 doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty kept India in the hunt, it was again left to Prannoy to take the team home after the tie was locked 2-2.
Up against world number 13 Rasmus Gemke, Prannoy suffered an ankle injury after slipping on the front court while going for a return, but continued after taking a medical time-out.
He looked in pain and his on-court movement was also restricted, but against all odds he produced a sensational performance to prevail 13-21, 21-9, 21-12 and etch India's name in the history books.
"Mentally, there were a lot of things going on in my head. After the slip, it was hurting more than usual and I was not able to lunge properly and I was thinking what to do," Prannoy said after the tie.
“In my mind, it was always coming that I should not give up, just try and see how it goes. Was praying that the pain doesn't get aggravated and it started to reduce towards the second game and by the third, I was feeling much better.
"The tactics which we used in the second and third game was very crucial. The strategy was to keep the pressure on and I knew if I come into the second half with a good lead, there is a big chance to get the game. I just told myself to push these 11 points possible and the strategy worked," he added.
India will take on 14-time champions Indonesia, the most successful team in the tournament’s history. Indonesia edged out Japan 3-2 in the other semi-final.
It was a creditable performance by the Indian team, which on Thursday had snapped a 43-year long wait by reaching the semi-finals with a 3-2 win over five-time champions Malaysia, a feat last achieved in 1979.
It was always going to be an uphill task for India to tame the formidable Danes, who were the first European country in history to win the title in 2016.
A lot rode on World Championships bronze medallist Lakshya Sen, given his recent win over Viktor Axelsen at the German Open Super 300, but he couldn't replicate his performance as the world number one scripted a comfortable 21-13, 21-13 win to hand Denmark a 1-0 lead.
Denmark chose to split their world number 9 pair of Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen into two halves with Astrup partnering Mathias Christiansen in the first doubles.
However, Rankireddy and Shetty dished out a gritty performance, holding their nerve in the final stages to beat Astrup and Christiansen 21-18, 21-23, 22-20 to bring India back in the contest.
The Indian pair faced five match-points -- two in the second game and three in third -- before converting one to bring joy back to the Indian camp.
With the tie locked 1-1, world number 11 Srikanth and world number 3 Anders Antonsen engaged in a battle of supremacy in the second singles and the former came out on top with a gritty 21-18, 12-21, 21-15 result to give India a 2-1 lead.
India's second doubles combination of Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala, however, was no match for Rasmussen and Frederik Sogaard, losing 14-21, 13-21 as the tie was tentatively posed at 2-2 after the fourth match.
The experienced Prannoy then lost the opening game but, quite incredibly, led 11-1 in the second, despite injury. He depended more on his attack to gather points even as Gemke failed to create pressure on the Indian.
Prannoy dominated the front court and soon roared back into contest with Gemke committing too many errors.
Ranked 23rd, hestamped his authority with his trademark smashes as Gemke's defence lay in tatters. The Indian was up 11-4 up at the interval and continued to dominate the proceedings.
With the Impact Arena reverberating with chants of "HSP", Prannoy grabbed nine match-points with a straight down the line smash and sealed it on the second opportunity as his teammates huddled together in celebration.