Next hurdle before Satwiksairaj-Chirag pair: Great Wall of China

Rankireddy and Shetty beat their Japanese opponents 21-18, 21-23, 21-11. (File)

It will be a match to savour as India’s sizzling doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty take on the Chinese in their backyard when they go up against Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen at the Haixia Olympics Sports Center in Fuzhou on Friday.

India’s top shuttlers - Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and K Srikanth - have all picked a title in China so when the unseeded Indian pair take on the Chinese in the quarterfinals of the China Open, expectations will be high.

Satwik-Chirag are newbies in the Top 10, but there’s always a hint of drama in the air when they take to the court these days. These are heady days for India’s doubles stars. Satwik-Chirag made the finals in Paris last fortnight, and it came at the back of the Thailand Open title earlier this year. These results make them a novelty in Indian badminton given that neither Jwala Gutta-V Diju nor Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala could repeatedly beat the top names like these two have.

Beyond the top two Indonesian pairs, this Chinese duo is the next best combination on the circuit. Seeded No.3, they bring to the court the sort of efficiency that’ll draw the Indians into a high intensity, no-inch-ceded battle from the start.

This will also be a grudge match of sorts since the Chinese lost to the Indians in the Thailand final. In fact, on that historic Sunday, they were completely bamboozled by the cerebral game the Indians dished out. The Chinese are 1-1 in head to head against the Indians having won in Australia two months before they were tied in knots in Thailand. The Chinese are a tall combination - both 190 cm-plus and 24. Liu is a junior World champion and Li, a lanky athlete who was pushed into the sport because he was a reedy thin child. They are effective and relentless but as was proven in Thailand, not immune to being wrong-footed by the clever Indians.

Winners in Macau last week, the Chinese will be wary of the Indians who will fancy their chances if it’s a long drawn-out battle, given the psychological advantage of the 62-minute win in Bangkok.

Japan stymied

The Indians reached their second Super 750 competition quarters beating the higher-ranked Japanese pair of Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe. The left-right combine, with the younger Watanabe a southpaw and senior Endo at 32 years, faced their second straight defeat against the Indians.

It was more of the same from the French Open semifinal. Satwik-Chirag rotated well against the retrieving duo to take the opener 21-18. The Indians were two match points up in the second, when defensive errors crept in. Satwik faulted on his serve on the second match point and Chirag was crossed by Endo to drag the match into a decider.

Once there, and annoyed by the missed opportunity to wrap things up in straight sets, the Indians went on a rampage giving the Japanese short shrift, to lead 10-1. Perhaps the biggest challenge was playing out this low-pitched match that drawled out ramblingly before the Indians won 21-18, 21-23, 21-11. This is not Japan’s top pair but with a rank of No. 7, the converts from mixed doubles specialise in prolonging short men’s doubles matches to an average hour-long slugfests with their attritional defence.

The Indians needed to stay patient after botching the two match points and responded admirably to get a stranglehold in the third. The pace might have lulled them, but they can expect the Chinese to come hard at them on Friday. Winning a title in China is almost a rite of passage for India’s top shuttle names. Satwik and Chirag are on a roll, but it’s a steep draw ahead with the top pairings bunched up in their half. To get to the top of the podium in the next three days, they will need to jump through hoops - World Nos 3, 1 and 2.

Parupalli Kashyap lost to fourth seed Anders Antonsen of Denmark. (File)

Kashyap, Praneeth out

PTI adds: Parupalli Kashyap and B Sai Praneeth were both ousted in the second round of the men's singles event.

World No. 11 Praneeth fought hard for one hour 24 minutes against fourth seed Anders Antonsen of Denmark before going down 20-22 22-20 21-16.

Kashyap, ranked 25 in the world, ran out of steam after a decent start against seventh seed Victor Axelsen and went down 13-21 19-21 in a match that lasted 43 minutes. Praneeth's loss marked the end of India's campaign in the singles.

This is the second time Kashyap had lost to Axelsen this year. The former Commonwealth Games champion, who reached the semifinals of India Open and Korea Open earlier this year, had lost to the world number six at the India Open in March.

It was also the end of the road for the mixed doubles pair of Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa. The unseeded Indian duo lost 21-23 16-21 to fifth seeds Seo Seung Jae and Chae Yujung of South Korea.