Harsheel Dani has found the transition from the junior to senior ranks a frustrating one. But on Thursday, this Mumbai-bred former National junior champion produced a performance to remember and dismantled World No. 22 Lee Dong Keun of Korea in just 39 minutes.
Left-handed Dani’s surprisingly superior showing, coupled with the straight-game pre-quarterfinal victories for top seed K. Srikanth and defending champion P. Kashyap, however, could not make up for the disappointing premature exit of home-favourite P. V. Sindhu from the $120,000 Syed Modi International Grand Prix Gold badminton championship here on Thursday.
Sindhu, here after regaining the Malaysia Masters title on Sunday, squandered five match-points in the second game against Thailand’s Nitchaon Jindapol and lost in three.
It was to the credit of the gritty Jindapol that she survived the 88-minute battle to win 18-21, 26-24, 21-17 despite nursing a bleeding feet at the end of the first game.
In the second game, too, Jindapol trailed 8-14 and 17-19 before pulling off a memorable victory. Sindhu, after repeatedly failing to close the second game, and with it the match, looked more frustrated than tired. She could not shake off these missed opportunities as was evident in the final game.
A tiring Sindhu’s defence let her down and repeated failures to claim the point after long rallies added to her exasperation.
In the decider, after Sindhu won the opening point, it was Jindapol all the way. Once the Thai led 16-10, Sindhu’s exit loomed large. Though Sindhu closed the gap to 17-19, Jindapol was not to be denied.
Dani, who turned 19 in August last, gained more than just a quarterfinal spot. He regained the confidence lost owing to a series of poor showings and a string of injuries. In the last 24 hours, victories over B. Sai Praneeth and now Lee Dong Keun should should add to Dani’s growing self-belief.
On this day, Dani produced a combination of deft strokes from the back of the court after realising that hard-hitting smashes only brought to the fore the best defensive skills of the Korean. Known for his aggressive play, the 178th-ranked Dani cleverly varied the pace of his returns, created the openings and often clinched the points with a fine mix of strokes to completely flummox the Korean, placed 156 places above in world rankings.
Much before Dani came good, the unseeded men’s duo of Pranav Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar upstaged World No. 10 and fifth seeded Indonesian duo of Angga Pratama and Rickey Karanda Suwardi 21-13, 21-14.
At the adjacent court, the sixth seeded ladies pair of G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponnappa easily made the quarterfinals at the expense of Ningshi Hazarika and V. Harika 21-9, 21-10.
Important results (Pre-quarterfinals, involving Indians):
Men: singles: K. Srikanth bt Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin (Mal) 21-9, 21-12; Boonsak Ponsana (Ina) bt Shreyansh Jaiswal 21-10, 21-18; P. Kashyap bt Zhu Siyuan (Chn) 21-19, 21-10; Harsheel Dani bt Lee Dong Keun (Mal) 21-15, 21-10.
Doubles: Pranaav Chopra & Akshay Dewalkar bt Angga Pratama & Ricky Karanda Suwardi (Ina) 21-13, 21-14;
Women: singles: Nitchaon Jindapol (Tha) bt P. V. Sindhu 18-21, 26-24, 21-17.
Doubles: G. Jwala & Ashwini Ponnappa bt Ningshi Hazarika & V. Harika 21-9, 21-10.
Mixed doubles: Shin Baek Cheol & Chae Yoo Jung (Kor) bt Yogendran Khrishnan (Mal) & Prajakta Sawant 21-11, 21-9; Praveen Jordan & Debby Susanto (Ina) bt Arun Vishnu & Aparna Balan 21-13, 21-17; Peng Soon Chan & Liu Ying Goh (Mal) bt Pranav Chopra & N. Sikki Reddy 21-14, 21-17.