Ajay Jayaram keeps reminding the world intermittently that the tiny-tag of a seeding that accompanies top players as they head into the business end of a tournament, often precludes his claims to immense talent and badminton nous.
Once again at the Swiss Open, the unseeded shuttler neatly packed off fancied and third seeded Rasmus Gemke to advance into the quarterfinals with a 21-18, 17-21, 21-13 win against the third best Dane currently after Viktor Axelsen and Anders Antonsen.
Ajay’s game is always easy on the eye, but his graceful manner of going about achieving what is essentially a brutal result – evicting an opponent, straddles a calculated tightrope of offense and defense.
The Mumbaikar, who trains at Bangalore, ofcourse has the skills to deceive – both at the net and from the back. But it is in his deceptive switch of intent, a mighty cerebral ploy, used at the rightest of junctures, that Ajay can land the knockout punch.
Leading 6-2 in the opener, Gemke would catch up at 10-all. The Dane would take longer strides to race to 17-13 – a crucial point from where the top players rub their reputations into faces of the journeymen and slam doors on their faces. But Ajay’s pedigree is not meant for such snubs – though his rank is dawdling at No 60. So he set about working his way back into contention.
“I knew getting into today’s match, that it would be a test mentally and physically as Gemke is someone who likes to play those hard rallies at a good pace,” he would say. Trading points through those crescendo building rallies, Ajay had to bring his wide range game into the picture to hike back.
“The first set was a see-saw battle, but I did well in the end to pull it out. Had to dig deep and throw in a mix of attacking and defensive play,” he said.
He would fall back in the second, but not get unduly worried. At his best, the 33-year-old was ranked 13th in June 2017. Twice, in the run-up to last two Olympics, he has been in touching distance of qualifying as India’s sole best ranked player, but pipped to the post. Lagging behind in the second set ceases to seem catastrophic when that kind of experience is on the resume.
“Though the second set didn’t go my way, I was confident about the third one. Early lead was the key. I’m glad I managed to maintain the pressure through the third set,” he would say, happy with the gruelling win achieved after he rushed from 10-8 to take the next 6 points in a hurry.
After packing off a Thai in the opening round, another one awaits in the quarters – this one comes with a tag of being a prodigy, looking to leapfrog over the rest to make it to the Games. Kunvalut Vitidsarn is a multiple junior World champ, in a hurry to play amongst the men, and with a steady game and temperament to back it. Seeded 8th, he’ll be up against the Indian with a lot more guile than his rank betrays.
“The focus now is on getting my body ready for tomorrow’s quarterfinal. Looking forward to it,” he would say.
Srikanth, Sai line up
India will have three quarterfinalists in contention, in what is a throwback to how the 2017 Super Series season used to be. This is a mid rung event, but it’ll be a good test of just how prepared the top Indians are to storm the season.
Kidambi Srikanth needed three to beat Frenchman Thom Rouxel. The 21-10, 14-21, 21-14 game stretched for 50 odd minutes but it was a neat demarcation of dominance and not as tricky as it seemed.
Pablo Abian is the sort of mid-table player that Sai Praneeth loves scything through, and it was a clinical 21-12, 21-17 dismissal.
But Srikanth’s first real test starts against Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen. It’s a typically slippery opponent that Srikanth has been susceptible to in these long seasons of lackluster results.
Sai Praneeth will need to bring out his net deceptions and tangles to stop Malaysian big hope Lee Zii Jia from running away with matches, as he is prone to.
Sindhu vs Busanan in Last 8
PV Sindhu made short work of American Iris Wong, but might face a sterner test from Thai Busanan Ongbamrungphan in the quarters. The Thai is in an intense race with her compatriots to seal the second spot at the Olympics for her country, and while Sindhu starts as a favourite, she can expect some stiff resistance from the fifth seed.