B Sai Praneeth’s impressive run at the BWF World Championships ended as he succumbed to defending champion Kento Momota in a lop-sided semifinal to settle for bronze here on Saturday. Praneeth’s attacking game couldn’t dent the defence of an in-form Momota as he went down to the Japanese World No. 1 13-21 8-21 in 41 minutes.
Notwithstanding the loss, Praneeth still achieved the rare distinction of becoming the first Indian male shuttler in 36 years to win a medal in the prestigious tournament. Prakash Padukone was the first to win a men’s singles World Championships medal — a bronze — in the 1983 edition.
Praneeth made a good start to his semifinal clash, opening up a slender 5-3 lead. However, Momota slowly found his rhythm and turned the tables by entering the interval with a small 11-10 advantage. The left-handed Japanese stepped up after the break, reeling off four points to surge to 15-10. Praneeth couldn’t find the winners regularly and committed too many unforced errors to allow Momota widen the gap between them.
At 12-18, the Indian found the net thrice to hand over the opening game to the Japanese. Praneeth was more competitive initially in the second game as he was tied 2-2 with his opponent but the Indian failed to lift the hard-hitting returns of Momota, sending the shuttle wide or at the net.
While Praneeth was erroneous, Momota was consistent and it reflected in the scoreline, as the Japanese quickly jumped to 9-2. A precise smash from Praneeth helped him to take a point but he misjudged a shuttle at the backline and then hit the nets as Momota grabbed a 11-3 advantage in the mid-game interval.
Praneeth’s struggle continued after the break as he couldn’t put pressure on his fancied rival, who rode on his resolute defence to dominate the rallies. At 15-5, Momota made a rare error when he sent the shuttle long but his quick backhand reflex near the net earned him the serve again.
A cross-court smash at Praneeth’s backhand took Momota to 19-8 and he grabbed 12 match points when the Indian hit the nets again. Praneeth then went wide as Momota raised his fist in celebration.