India's HS Prannoy won bronze BWF World Championships after a loss to world no.3 Kunlavut Vitidsarn in Copenhagen on Saturday, in a thrilling three-game semifinal.
Vitidsarn, of Thailand, won 18-21, 21-13, 21-14 to make it to his second consecutive Worlds final (he had lost to Viktor Axelsen last year). Earlier in this tournament, Vitidsarn had seen off India's other men's competitor, Lakshya Sen.
Prannoy, playing his first Worlds semifinal, had started much the stronger of the two, but a Vitidsarn fightback in the early stages of the second game saw him seize control; and he never let go from then. Towards the end, fatigue seemed to be getting at Prannoy as Vitidsarn manouevered him across the court at will.
The first game had started with a display of the most potent weapons in the players' arsenals: Prannoy's incredible down-the-line jump smash winning him the first point, Vitidsarn's wrists of magic whipping up two disguised drops that made it 2-2. The game remained even till 5-5, when Prannoy took a minute's break to change socks: that break-in-play seemed to throw Vitidsarn off, and Prannoy took full advantage. Unforced errors from Vitidsarn were added upon with a couple of typically emphatic smashes from Prannoy as he took a 10-5 lead, which he soon made 11-5 at the break with a delicious disguised backhand overhead drop. Vitidsarn didn't have a clue where that was going.
Another series of Vitidsarn unforced errors and superb rally management from HSP made it 16-9 before Vitidsarn mounted a mini-comeback. It was a teaser for things to come as he forced HSP into errors with quick, aggressive net play to make it 18-14.
Prannoy made it 19 with the point of that first game, moving Vitidsarn around his side of the court before finishing off the rally he had controlled form the start with a cross court smash. A couple of unforced errors then gave the Indian camp a few nerves, but he closed the game out with a drop that took the net tape, 21-18.
Prannoy came out flying in the second game and raced to a 4-0 lead with a series of unreturnable smashes that kissed the margins. At 5-1, though, something clicked for Vitidsarn and he started clawing his way back into the game. A Jump smash, a net-kill, and a series of unforced errors from Prannoy made it 6-6. Vitidsarn took the lead for the first time at 8-7 in the second game as Prannoy sent a clear wide, and he never relinquished it. A jump smash to make it 11-7 at the break signalled his intent and then he had a series of consecutive points which saw him race to a 15-10 lead and then from 15-13 to 21-13. That last series of six consecutives points and the seven to go from 7-7 to 13-7 saw momentum shift completely to Vitidsarn.
Prannoy, himself coming off a roaring comeback win against the great Viktor Axelsen, started the final game slow and that was it. Vitidsarn raced into a 6-2 lead before being pegged back to 8-7. Prannoy's aggression, though, wore off soon as Vitidsarn took a 11-7 lead into the break. From then it was a matter of routine.
There were some deft touches from Prannoy in there - including a sensational drop where he chopped at the shuttle and it dropped on the other side, kissing the net in unreturnable fashion. But these glimpses of magic were too far and few in between.
Vitidsarn's disguised drops (variations of them, including one backhand no-look crosscourt) and incredible defence meant Prannoy couldn't get a foothold back into the game. A tired clear that gently floated into the middle of the net gave Vitidsarn seven match points at 20-13, before the world no. 3 closed it out with the minimum of fuss in the next point.
Meanwhile, in the women's draw, former Olympic champion Carolina Marin powered her way to the final where she'll face favourite An Se Young.