2023 BWF World Championships: Prannoy, Satwik-Chirag fight their way into quarterfinal

HS Prannoy IZHAR KHAN/AFP via Getty Images

HS Prannoy and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty were tested in three-game encounters but came through victorious in contrasting styles to reach the quarterfinals of the 2023 BWF World Championships on Thursday. However, it was the end of Lakshya Sen and Treesa Jolly-Gayatri Gopichand's campaign in Copenhagen as they went down in the third round.

Prannoy showed nerves of steel in his nail-biting 21-18, 15-21, 21-19 win over 2021 world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore, reaching his third successive Worlds quarterfinals (only the second Indian man to ever do so, after Prakash Padukone in 1980, 1983 and 1985). His quest for a first Worlds medal, though, now runs into world No 1 Viktor Axelsen.

Satwik and Chirag, who won their first medal in the last edition, are one win away from their second World Championships medal after they bounced back from a mid-game slump to beat Indonesian 10th seeds Leo Rolly Carnando and Daniel Marthin 21-15, 19-21, 21-9.

The second-seeded Indian pair play Denmark's 11th seeds and home favourites Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen next. They have a 2-5 head-to-head record against the Danish duo but both sets of players haven't played each other since the end of 2021, which is before this improved version of Sat-Chi broke through in 2022.

It was heartbreak for Lakshya, who fought back to push last year's silver medallist and third seed Kunlavut Vitidsarn to a decider but ended up losing 14-21, 21-16, 13-21.

In the first match of the day, Treesa and Gayatri played an entertaining match that showed their potential but couldn't get past Chinese top seeds and two-time defending champions Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan, losing 14-21 9-21 in 42 minutes.

The match of the day, from an Indian perspective and more, was ninth seed Prannoy's thrilling win. The Indian, having the best season of his life, had to use every bit of his resolve and calm to fend of his Singaporean opponent (and good friend) who fought back from 4-11 down in the decider.

Prannoy started the first game slowly before finding his feet levelling scores at 8-8. But Loh ensured a three-point advantage at the interval before Prannoy clawed back to level at 13-13 and then at 16-16. That's when the game-defining moment happened - three silly errors from Loh gave Prannoy a 19-16 lead which he converted to a win.

After the change of ends, Loh's explosive style opened up a 6-3 lead and despite the Indian catching up, he once again went into the interval with an 11-8 lead. Prannoy drew level again but Loh went on an inspired run to move to 19-14 while the Indian slowed down his intensity and committed a few wayward shots to head into the decider.

The third game was an extreme rollercoaster. Prannoy turned the heat on from the onset of the third game, going 5-0 up and soon the Indian grabbed a seven-point advantage at the break. But when it looked like it would be a straightforward win, Loh stepped up his attack and produced some exquisite smashes to reel off six straight points and reduce the gap to one point.

Prannoy unleashed two powerful smashes before sending one looping at the backline to move to 14-10. The Singaporean then produced a fast, aggressive attack to take the lead for the first time in the decider.

However, Prannoy stayed calm and with a precise smash levelled the scores at 16-16 and then went for a flick serve which his opponent sprayed into the net. Loh faltered at the net again as Prannoy led 19-17. A cross court on Prannoy's forehand followed by a superb block at the net helped the Singaporean make it 19-all.

Just when it looked like the match would go on past the 21-point mark, Prannoy's precise return landed on the line to give him a match point and he sealed it when Loh went to net from the backline.

There was a huge cheer from Prannoy, who had pulled off another memorable victory to add to his growing collection of three-game battles. The way he balanced his calm and precise play with frequent releases of emotions in a close game was indicative of his growth.

A first Worlds medal, though, will need the 31-year-old to use this and more as he takes on world No 1 and defending champion Axelsen on Friday. The Dane leads their H2H 7-2 but the Indian is known for his giant-killing abilities. Badminton fans can expect another big fight from Prannoy in the quarterfinals.

With PTI Inputs