Sai Praneeth rallies to triumph

Memorable day:B. Sai Praneeth, right, prevailed over compatriot K. Srikanth to win his first major international title on Sunday.PTI

Memorable day:B. Sai Praneeth, right, prevailed over compatriot K. Srikanth to win his first major international title on Sunday.PTI  

Srikanth lets go the advantage in the summit clash to lose in three games

In what could well turn out to be the turning point in a promising career, B. Sai Praneeth seized the moment and made it count.

Playing his maiden super series final for the Singapore Open title, Sai bounced back strongly to beat sparring partner K. Srikanth in a historic all-India final for a first major international title on Sunday.

In a contest lasting 54 minutes, Sai prevailed 17-21, 21-17, 21-12 to maintain his supremacy over Srikanth, ranked a place higher at 29.

This was Sai’s fifth victory over Srikanth in six meetings.

Later, both players stood on the podium with the National flags loosely resting on their shoulders. Sai received $26,250 and Srikanth $13,300.

Sai, who has not won a Grand Prix title, became only the second Indian to win a Super Series men’s singles crown. This also resulted in Srikanth losing his first Super Series final in three appearances. The former World No. 3 won the China Open in 2014 and the India Open in 2015.

On this day, Srikanth raised visions of winning a third title before a resurgent Sai turned the match on its head.

Crucial role

Down by a game and trailing 2-7 in the second, Sai found a way to check Srikanth’s aggression that had played a crucial role in deciding the opening game. Though both know each other’s game very well, there were times when Sai managed to catch Srikanth on the wrong foot.

Sai managed to make it 7-7 and thereafter continued to ride on confidence.

After the game progressed neck-and-neck, Srikanth made it 15-16 but Sai did not allow him any more liberties and sent the match into the decider.

Srikanth, looking increasingly disappointed with his own display, continued to give away points owing to poor execution in the face of some sustained pressure from Sai. Once Sai opened a 10-3 lead and held a 11-5 advantage at the mid-game interval, he looked well on course.

Sai enlarged the lead to 16-8 and after some last-ditch resistance from Srikanth, won when the latter’s down-the-line forehand smash found the middle of the tram-lines.

This title was all the more incredible for Sai if one were to look at the manner in which it came about. Known to lack the fitness levels of some of his peers at the Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad, Sai is slowly showing signs of overcoming the after-effects of three-game battles. Even against Srikanth, Sai was willing to battle all the way and it was his never-say-die spirit that stood rewarded.

Big game hunter

Not many are aware that Sai upset the former World and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat in the first round of the 2013 Indonesia Open and the current World No.1 Lee Chong Wei in the first round of the 2016 All England championship . Earlier this month, he came close to beating another former World and Olympic champion Lin Dan, the eventual winner of the Malaysia Open.

Meanwhile, in the women’s final, World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying maintained her supremacy by taming the World and Olympic champion Carolina Marin 21-15, 21-15. This was Tai’s 25th successive victory, spread over five months, and earned her a fifth straight title.

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