With the semifinal draw to 2-2, HS Prannoy slipped and fell uncomfortably while he was behind with 4-11 in the first match in the decisive fifth rubber against Denmark. A doctor was called. His heel strapped after medical timeout lost the Indian shuttle 13-21. At that time, India’s hopes of reaching a maiden final in the Thomas Cup were almost over.
But just like on Thursday, world number 23 made a sensational comeback to defeat Rasmus Gemke 13-21, 21-9, 21-12 in one hour and 13 minutes to take India to the final of the prestigious biennial tournament, also known as the World Cup for men’s team, for the first time since the first edition in 1949 with a 3-2 victory over former champions Denmark on Friday.
An elated Indian team rushed onto the track to hug Prannoy just as his sliced drop crossed the net with Gemke unable to reach the shuttle. In the final at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, India will face the most successful team in the history of the tournament, 14-time winners and defending champions Indonesia, who beat Japan 3-2. India are only the ninth team ever to reach the final and will aim to become the sixth team to lift the trophy on Sunday.
Both teams retained the winning combination that had pushed them into the last four. Against world leader Viktor Axelsen, Lakshya Sen had a long task to overcome the reigning Olympic champion, especially after losing the opening rubber in the quarterfinals against Malaysia on Thursday. Although the 20-year-old defeated the former world champion in the German Open in March last year, Friday was different. The Dane dominated the promising Indian youth and gave the 2016 champions a 1-0 lead in the semifinals with a win of 21-13, 21-13 in 49 minutes.
Axelsen was quick on his feet and changed direction of play all the time. Then he could not cope and made headstrong mistakes. Then ran out of ideas to give up and give Axelsen a sixth win in seven meetings.
“I could play from the better end and tried to keep a good length in the first match but with his smashes he was able to crack my defense. His half smash worked really well today. In the second match I gave (away) an early lead and it was difficult for me to come back, says Sen, who reached the final in England in March.
“I made unforced errors because of the feeling of lifting. I could have started the second game better.”
But just like on Thursday, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty gave India the victory that made them go off the mark. In the first double rubber, the world’s No. 8 combination beat Kim Astrup and Mathias Christiansen 21-18, 21-23, 22-20 in a marathon that lasted one hour and 18 minutes. Although they were in a better rhythm than the Danish pair, they wasted five match points and eventually converted the sixth.
“In all matches we started really slowly. The first nine points in both matches we were down 9-3 or 9-4 but from there we got our rhythm. The second match we would have finished with 20-18 but some nervous moments and “They took the game away from us. But how we came back in the third game could not have been better. We kept calm and kept to our plan,” said Shetty.
In a battle between two World Cup silver medalists, it was Kidambi Srikanth who came out on top and beat world number 3 Anders Antonsen with 21-18, 12-21, 21-15 in one hour and 20 minutes to give India a 2-1 lead. Antonsen, probably the most tactical player on the circuit, fought hard but the former Indian who was number 1 in the world was much more proactive during the day to the great joy of his team.
The Indians’ second double pair with Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala proved to be the weak link once again, going down to Anders Skaarup Rasmussen and Frederik Sogaard 14-21, 13-21 in 39 minutes. Although it was a scratch, the experience from the world championship bronze medalist Rasmussen was significant in the decisive meeting, which allowed Denmark to level the competition at 2-2.
Then again it came to Prannoy, who after losing the first match found the spring in his step to beat Gemke by 13-21, 21-9, 21-12 in one hour and 13 minutes. Prannoy’s win, his second in four meetings against the Dane, came with a points spread in the second and third match. By taking advantage of Gemke’s loose defense, which disappeared as the match progressed, the shuttle from Kerala could easily close the match.
Uber Cup final
Earlier in the day, the proprietors China entered another Uber Cup final with a 3-0 victory over hosts Thailand and will take on South Korea, who threw Japan 3-0 in the second semifinal.