India beat Malaysia 3-2 in the quarter-final of the Badminton Asia Team Championship at Hyderabad today with Prannoy winning the crucial decider after Srikanth had gotten the hosts off to a flying start. With this win, India have now booked their place in the Thomas Cup (World Men's Team Championship).
In the opening tie, Kidambi Srikanth took on World No.38 Zulfadli Zulkiffli in men's singles. Srikanth dominated the match from the start and raced to an 8-4 lead. Zulkiffli put Srikanth under pressure with power-play from the backcourt, but the World No.8 kept his calm and produced a lovely cross-court backhand drop shot to win the point to extend his lead to 12-8.
Zulkiffli struggled at the nets throughout the match, and Srikanth kept exploiting his weakness. The Indian star was in the grove when it came to finding the corners with his smashes. In the 22nd point, Srikanth displayed wonderful variation, and deception, to find the backcourt with his backhand, something which the Malaysian failed to anticipate.
Under pressure, Zulkiffli began to lose his composure and control and failed to find the court for three consecutive shots, as Srikanth went up 17-10. Zulkiffli showed some resistance towards the end of the first game, as he tried to keep Srikanth away from the net and pushed him back, to take the match to 19-14. But it was too little too late, as Srikanth closed out the game at 21-14, with another deception of pace to produce a winner.
In the second game, Zulkiffli came out firing all cylinders as Srikanth lost his concentration, and took a 9-3 lead. The Malaysian had finally found his feet in the tie, and even brought forth a 293 kmph smash, which left Srikanth short-winded.
But Zulkiffli's ascent was short-lived, as Srikanth woke up from his slumber, and came up with big shots under pressure. The Indian fought back and took the score to 9-7, with four consecutive winners. Zulkiffli was able to stop the run, temporarily, as a poor shot at the net from Srikanth kept the court open for his opponent to smash in a winner.
Srikant had to defend a bit more in the second game than he did in the first, but the 23-year-old showed that he is adept at turning defence into offense in a flash. In the 18th point, Srikanth, after defending couple of big shots from Zulkiffli, came up with a cross-court smash and took the match to 10-8.
The game was finely balanced at 13-13, but soon Srikanth gained the upper hand with Zulkiffli missing a host of drop shots at the net, and from 16-14, Srikanth ended up winning the game 21-15 to register his second win against the Malaysian and give India a 1-0 lead in the quarter-final.
However, the Malaysian team fought back with Iskandar Zainudding defeating Ajay Jayaram and the pair of Yew Sin Ong and Ee Yi Teo defeating Pranaav Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar, to level the match at 2-2.
Teck Zhi Soo and HS Prannoy faced each other in the deciding tie of the match. The higher ranked Indian got the upper hand in the tie, with an easy win the opening game, however, the second game turned out to be a humdinger. Prannoy managed to hold his nerve and come out on the top at 22-20.
Men's singles: Kidambi Srikanth won 21-14, 21-15 against Zulfadli Zulkiffli
Men's doubles: Manu Attri/ Sumeeth Reddy won 21-10, 20-22, 21-16 against Low Juan Shen
Men's single: Ajay Jayaram lost to Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin 21-17, 12-21, 16-21
Men's doubles: Pranaav Chopra/ Akshay Dewalkar lost to Yew Sin Ong/ Ee Yi Teo 14-21, 21-14, 12-21
Men's singles: HS Prannoy defeated Teck Zhi Soo 21-12, 22-20