Asia Mixed Team Championships: India enter maiden semifinals after overturning a 0-2 deficit against Hong Kong

When DK Sen representing the Indian contingent at the draw ceremony picked out Hong Kong China as the team’s quarterfinal opponents, it was considered fortuitous. Hong Kong had come through the qualifiers and have been in semis of the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships before, but don’t boast of big names on the Tour. What panned out on the courts though was one giant roller-coaster team tie, as India punched back from 0-2 down to finally win 3-2, with two of those wins coming from doubles – a sign of progress in the sport. In the semifinals, Indian team will play China, which has travelled with a development squad. A bronze medal is assured after India made their first foray into Last-4 of the championships.

It needed Chirag Shetty’s experience and composure to believe they could do it despite going 0-2 down, after the mixed doubles of Ishaan Bhatnagar and Tanisha Crasto and the singles match of Lakshya Sen saw opponents get stuck into them in the first two rubbers. Partnering Dhruv Kapila who – like Shetty – is quite proficient at the net despite his tall frame, the Indian World championship medallist stuck to a plan of a flat game ensuring fast exchanges against the bouncy pairing of Tang-Yeung to win 20-22, 21-16, 21-11. To Shetty’s credit, he didn’t allow the first set scoreline to stutter into a complete meltdown given the momentum in Hong Kong’s favour.

It was expected that PV Sindhu would steamroll the 20-year-old Saloni Mehta, but the little-known woman gave the Indian legend one right fight before she was subdued. Sindhu was perhaps taken aback initially by not so much the ferocity of her opponent’s strokes as her composure but restored normalcy winning 16-21, 21-7, 21-9. The opponent might not have been highly rated, but this was a tough tie, a blind leap into the unknown for Sindhu, who did well to not implode after dropping the first set, and kept her calm to assert her class eventually.

At 2-2, it was back to Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand Pullela who in the last 24 hours have morphed into India’s most dependable players in a tricky tie. There was no drama in this rubber – for every other match swung wildly – as the two put up an efficient show, maintaining good pace against Tsz Yau and Wing Yung. They are still only 19 but have played two pressure matches, yesterday against a Top 5, and looked unfazed by the occasion, trusting their game to do what’s asked of them.

Knowing they were to play the last rubber in itself could’ve wrecked nerves, given the long waiting time to just get onto the court when awaiting their turn.

But from start to finish, the duo played their strokes and ensured the pace completely took the Hong Kong pair’s propensity to prolong rallies out of the equation. Body smashes and net interceptions both remained crisp even when their opponents narrowed the leads.

It ended serenely for India, but it had begun stormily through another talented pair of former teenagers – of recent vintage.

It had started with a wild 11-1 opening set margin in the mixed doubles for Tanisha Crasto and Ishaan Bhatnagar which their defiant rivals Lee-NG overturned after prevailing in the topsy-turvy 26-24 opener. It was error-strewn on both sides, but the Indians were frequently caught on the same side of the court leaving yawning gaps on the other flank.

They are a spirited and talented pairing, but in want of composure when things get testy on the courts. Tanisha has great interceptions and can set up kills for Ishaan at the front court, but she was also prone to some wild over-hitting, while Bhatnagar saw his game go dishevelled with a few line and net calls as they finished with a 26-24, 21-17 losing score.

Lakshya Sen tasked with wringing a point out of Ng Ka Long Angus started rather well. His hop-jump smashes got going in the opening set. However the Hong Kong shuttler, also a Top 20 right now has always been determined and brought his big game into the mix. Sen’s go-to trick was the pace acceleration, hitting the next gear in hitting and it helped him cover up leads. But Angus had far too much firepower at the crunch as he first levelled and then dominated the decider, triggering some anarchy in his game.

His form at the net was indifferent and a sense of desperation to snatch a lead also ended up in a pile of errors. Finally, Sen was beaten 22-20, 19-21, 18-21 by Angus, which meant India were 0-2 down and needed to win 3 off 3. On a memorable day, they did just that.

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