India Grand Prix Gold: Song Xue downs Srikanth in a thriller to clinch title
The Syed Modi India Grand Prix Gold badminton tournament in Lucknow came to a thrilling conclusion as Song Xue overcame a massive deficit to outlast Srikanth Kidambi 16-21, 21-19, 21-13 for the title. Srikanth seemingly had the match under control when he was just two points from a memorable victory, but Song worked his way back winning 15 points in a row from 12-19 in the second game to snatch the trophy.
With both players attacking non-stop, the match was being played at a blistering pace. Eventually, the 50th ranked Chinese took the title in 38 minutes to deny Srikanth, who was hoping for glory at home. It was a match of two parts, with Srikanth in control for much of the early stages before Song burst from behind to pull off a sensational upset.
In the first game, Srikanth ran up a 7-0 lead killing the bird at will with his spectacular jump smashes coming off at full force. The 50th ranked Chinese sought to slow down the pace by moving the Indian around the court, as he worked his way back to 6-7.
Aided by some advice from Pullela Gopichand and Madhumita Bisht, who were court side, Srikanth raced away again to open up a 10 point lead at 16-6.
Yet again, Song forced play to the backhand side of Srikanth to win eight in a row as he narrowed the game to just two points. The powerful Indian ensured he closed out the game without much drama when he took his first game point to keep Song at bay.
Just as in the first game, Srikanth ran up a 5-0 lead at the beginning of the second game. At 5-1 there was an issue with the scoring system and Song used the break to his advantage. The Chinese got even with Srikanth at 6-6, once again making smart use of his serve to force the Indian into playing a defensive game.
The lead changed hands a few times but from 13-12, Srikanth reeled off some more smash winners to gain a commanding 19-12 lead. If the crowd was preparing to celebrate for Srikanth, they were in for a rude shock. The up and coming Chinese who celebrated his twentieth birthday last Wednesday had plans of his own.
Song has shot up the rankings these past few months – jumping a 100 spots from 150th last September to 50th now. He showed why by making intelligent use of the court and varying the pace of the game to win nine in a row and force the decisive third game.
Srikanth was shell shocked by the turn of events and draped in sweat from the physical effort. Still in a daze, he quickly fell behind 0-6 in the final game. It has been a long tournament for the Indian who had already played two other three game matches earlier in the week.
As much as Srikanth gathered his wits and made an honest effort to narrow the widening gap, he tapered off again once he worked his way back to 6-9. Song knew his opponent was straining and made smart use of the situation by making Srikanth move around the court as he kept inching closer to victory.
At 11-18 in the third game, Srikanth needed an effort akin to his opponent’s in the earlier game. A lengthy rally saw the players cover the court with purpose before a let enabled Srikanth to snatch the point. The world No.30 though was spent from the effort and not much later netted a smash to end the contest.
Even as a distraught Srikanth looked on in disappointment, Song broke out into an exuberant celebration by ripping open his shirt and letting out a guttural scream.