Parupalli Kashyap and Rajiv Ouseph laid their sweat and sinews on the line in an epic semifinal that saw the match swing one way and then the other. In a match that demanded every last ounce of energy from the players, Kashyap prevailed over his desperate opponent 18-21, 21-17, 21-18 to reach the gold medal match at the 20th Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The two men threatened to bring the roof down by engaging in some intense rallies, the longest of which came on the first match point for the Indian. It lasted 71 strokes over 72 seconds, ending in desperate drama – Kashyap believed for a moment he had won match, before having to pick himself off the floor to do it all over again a couple of points later.
Fine start for Kashyap leads to a see-saw first game
Kashyap got off to a sizzling start, with a thundering crosscourt smash to take the first point of the match. The Indian’s shoulder has been a bit of a concern recently, and Ouseph was giving the bird plenty of air in the early exchanges.
A lengthy no-frills rally seemed to last forever and when Ouseph struck wide eventually to surrender the point, Kashyap won an important psychological point over his lanky opponent. He rode that momentum well, taking five straight points from 4-4.
The Englishman stemmed the tide with a neatly placed backhand winner for 5-9. Kashyap smashed one right on the tape and when the shuttle dribbled over, drawing an apologetic arm, the Indian was in control at 10-6. The players changed ends at 11-7, with Kashyap in the lead.
When they returned to play, Ouseph recovered ground to close the gap at 10-11. Kashyap showed sharp defensive skills and an athletic retrieve won another lengthy rally to give him a two point lead at 12-10. But Ouseph seemed to have received good counsel during the changeover – he was able to trouble Kashyap with intelligent change of pace as he rallied to win 7 of 8 points to take the lead for the first time in the match at 13-12.
Trailing 15-16, Kashyap struck yet another thrilling smash to draw even. The Indian then produced a spectacular lunging drop just over the net to take back the lead 17-16. But this was dead even now, and it kept swinging back and forth.
Ouseph gained a two point advantage when Kashyap dropped one in the net at 19-17. Drawn to the net, Kashyap lifted one too far to afford the Englishman game point. The 21-minute first game came to an end 21-18, when Kashyap stabbed at the shuttle only to drop it below the net.
Rallies get longer in the second game, and the match gets tenser
Rajiv wasted no time gaining a 4-1 lead at the start of the second game as it seemed to be slipping away from the Indian. Kashyap was giving away 17 centimeters to his opponent in height, so he had to make up for it with his ability to wind up his arm and produce raw power. The 27-year-old from Hyderabad gathered his wits just in time to win seven of eight points to surge ahead of the man from Hounslow.
Rajiv looked to attack to regain control of the game, but Kashyap took a 10-8 lead when a smash crashed into the net. For the second time in the match, it was Kashyap again that went into the break with his nose in front, this time at 11-9.
Kashyap then drew his opponent to the net, forcing a high lift from Ouseph to draw out another smash winner to go up 12-9. The 22nd-ranked Indian opened up a five point lead at 14-9 as he began to work his way back into the match.
An animated Pullela Gopichand was unabashed in his support for Kashyap as he called upon his ward to keep the pressure on his opponent. Kashyap showed he could mix feathery touches with brute power when he lunged into an offering at the net to edge closer to the game at 18-13.
At 19-14, Kashyap made an error in judgement to lose the point on the line, but a smash winner on the next point gave him five points to close the game. Just as well, for the Indian needed three of those to take the game at 21-17.
A dramatic final game brings the crowd to its feet
Ouseph won the first four points of the final game to push Kashyap into a corner, but the Indian hung tight to work his way back. The 26th-ranked Englishman retained the lead as the duel started to get intensely physical at 6-4.
The next point had the makings of a mental tipping point – Kashyap retrieved the shuttle from a nearly lost position by making a full length dive and an apparently rattled Ouseph sailed wide a couple of shots later to surrender the vital point.
Exactly an hour into the match, the players were locked in a dead heat at 6-6 in the third game. Ouseph missed a good smash by the breadth of a hair follicle to offer the lead to the Indian as they approached the final stretch at 7-6. The arduous duel swung Kashyap’s way when he won three straight points to strenthen his grip at 10-7. The final break of the match had Kashyap switching sides with a three point gap, 11-8.
More importantly, Kashyap had crept into his opponent’s mind and even though Rajiv worked his way to 11-10, Kashyap won six straight points to inch closer to the final at 17-10. A poor call saw Kashyap steal a point at 18-11 and a trademark smash took him to 19-11. A desperate Rajiv threw his last punches to work his way back to 19-14, but a well placed backhand drop gave him match points.
An overruled match point delays the inevitable, and Kashyap finally emerges victorious
At 20-15, the determined duo indulged in a lengthy rally that had all the ingredients that made this match such a special contest. There was power and touch from Kashyap, some desperate diving too and solid defence from Ouseph as the rally prolonged to eternity. Drama followed when the shuttle dropped to the line and Kashyap thought he had the match. Moments later, he opened his eyes wide realising that the point had been called to Ouseph.
The tension mounted when Ouseph made it three points in a row to claw his way back to 20-18, but yet another brilliant smash by Kashyap sealed victory. An elated Kashyap burst his lungs screaming in relief as he let out the agony and pain from the 83-minute battle.
It was a Commonwealth classic that shall play on for years to come, but the job is far from done for Kashyap. He will be back on court tomorrow to give his soul again in the pursuit of gold in the final against either compatriot RMV Gurusai Dutt or Derek Wong of Singapore.Published 02 Aug 2014, 08:48 IST