A ticket to London. A lifetime’s memories. Being part of the greatest spectacle on earth. The Olympic village. Playing before millions.
How could so much hinge on just one point?
And yet, that is precisely what unfolded at the India Open Superseries on Thursday. Rarely has so much of value turned on so little.
It was pre-quarterfinal day, and the fates of two Indian men were to be decided. Ajay Jayaram and P Kashyap were locked in a close battle for the lone Indian spot at the Olympics; Ajay led by a few ranking points, and the arithmetic was in his favour. Kashyap had not only to win his second round match against the wily and experienced Thai Boonsak Ponsana, he also had to beat Chinese Chen Jin in the quarterfinals to ensure his passage to the Olympics. Even assuming he could beat Ponsana, Chen Jin was a different prospect altogether – few in the world are capable of beating him. And so, you could say, Ajay’s London ticket was nearly booked.
And with both playing at the same time, the countdown couldn’t have got tighter. Both Ajay and Kashyap, having lost the first game, won the second to take their matches to the decider. Ajay, facing world No.1 Lee Chong Wei, was perhaps unlucky to have his fate decided by the world’s best player, for Chong Wei demolished him in the third, and even as they left the arena, Kashyap was locked in a desperate battle against Ponsana.
But Ponsana – a contemporary of Kashyap’s coach Gopichand – deceptive and wristy, edged ahead 19-17, just a hair’s breath away from three match points.
It was at this stage that Kashyap showed astonishing resolve. Ponsana played an immaculate clip from the back — the shuttle homing in on the vacant floor within the service line. Ponsana had almost assumed he had taken the point when Kashyap dived in from nowhere, a full-bodied dive that picked the shuttle inches off the floor and deposited it back in Ponsana’s court.
The Thai looked on in disbelief, but he would not be denied the next point. It was now 20-18, two match points.
The two traded shots at the net, and Kashyap was awkwardly fending off a drive to his face. The shuttle looped up, and for all purposes, the match was over. Ponsana had only to knock it back, for Kashyap had given up.
But then, call it what you will – tremendous luck; fate; or just the glorious uncertainty of sport – the match swung crazily. So much would turn on so little. Ponsana played the weirdest shot of his life. Having assumed the point was over, he half-turned and paddled up a lollipop into the air that Kashyap couldn’t miss in his sleep. One match point saved! The Thai was too crestfallen to contest the next three points and Kashyap still had a straw to clutch at.
Next to come was Chen Jin. Ajay must have yet nursed his chances, but then came the news – Chen Jin had withdrawn from the contest, as the latest rankings had him at No.4 and a definite spot in the Olympics. Kashyap had his place in the semifinals and had overtaken Ajay.
Depending on which way you looked at it, it was either tremendous good luck or bad fortune. A whole career could be defined on becoming an Olympian; perhaps a whole life would be defined by it. So much might change for Kashyap, and that because he had the courage at 17-19 to dive for what seemed a lost point. If he hadn’t, things wouldn’t have unfolded this way.
Many in the press asked him about how ‘lucky’ he’d been, but Kashyap hasn’t had it easy. Over the last year, he has battled injury and had to recover from the trauma of a personal tragedy to keep his Olympic hopes alive. Ajay didn’t lose his Olympic place — Kashyap won it.