Niluka stuns world number eight, creates historyJuly 30, 2012, 12:00 pm
reporting from London
Underdog Niluka Karunaratne stunned world number eight in the biggest upset so far in the 2012 Olympics badminton competition as he beat Kenichi Tago of Japan in straight sets in the men’s singles first round match at Wembley Arena here in London yesterday. In what experts termed a battle between mental strengths, Niluka knocked out the champion Japanese from the first round.
With a near capacity crowd eagerly supporting him, Karunaratne played like a true champion with lot of mettle as he led from the word go to beat Tago 21-18 and 21-16.
The ten time Sri Lankan champion controlled his emotions, limiting his celebrations to just a fist up on a couple of occasions during the most of the 46 minutes battle. His controlled emotions were finally released by raising his hands in jubilation when he sealed the match and a well deserving spot in the pre- quarter finals, the highest achievement a Sri Lankan badminton player has ever recorded in the Olympics and the history of badminton in Sri Lanka.
"It is a great feeling. I knew that I could pull off an upset. That was what my coach always told me. I felt pressure until I scored eleven points but then on it was on Tago," Niluka told reporters after the victory as Sri Lankan officials came flocking around him to congratulate him.
Niluka had already predicted that it would be a battle of mental strengths on the eve of the match and looked the victor of that battle from the time he set foot on the court.
By half way in to the first set the scores were tied at 15-15. That was the only moment during the entire game where Tago looked to pull the game away. The Sri Lankan used his recent experiences at competitive international tournaments to take a decisive two point lead which he improved to finish the first set amidst thundering applause of a near capacity crowd.
"I don’t know from where the cheers came. It was a terrific experience to get the crowd support behind me. The stadium was superb. There was no wrong lighting and I could see the shuttle anywhere," said Niluka.
There were two other matches being played simultaneously at the Wembley Arena but the match between players of contrasting ranks (Niluka ranked 48 in the world) attracted the crowd. The other two matches were women’s singles matches.
Niluka said that his parents and brothers too were there at the stadium, but there were many shouts of ‘Niluka’ and ‘Sri Lanka’ during the match, which was probably a sign that the crowds enjoying the fight of the underdog.
The first set defeat seemed to deal a heavy mental blow to Tago who continued his struggle against world number 48 into the second set.
Niluka looked almost relaxed in the second set and at one moment virtually floored the 2010 All England champion, delivering consecutive dashes closer to the chest of his opponent who fumbled without foot movement. Niluka earned three match points against Tago’s zero points and was also ahead in points scored with services (9-7, 10-5).
"I expected him to come fighting in the second set but he did not," said Karunaratne who is likely to meet another high ranked player Nguyen Tien Minh of Vietnam in the pre-quarter final.
According to Parakrama Basnayake the President of the Badminton Federation, Niluka had rejected officials’ requests to train in the morning and Basnayaka said that it was a sign how ready he was mentally for the big match.
Niluka said that he would try to be more relaxed when he encounters Minh who is playing in his second Olympics.
Samarakoon happy with his
Meanwhile, shooter Mangala Samarakoon was ranked 45th among 47 contenders in the men’s 10 metres air rifle event which took place at Royal Artillery Barracks yesterday.
Samarakoon told reporters that he was happy with his performance as his score (583-31x) was his personal best for the discipline. "This boosts my confidence to do well in my pet event," Samarakoon told reporters. Samarakoon’s pet event, the men’s 50 metre rifle prone, will take place at the same venue on Friday.
In the women’s singles badminton competition Thilini Jayasinghe lost her second consecutive match to be eliminated from the competition yesterday. Portugal player Telma Santos beat Thilini in straight sets (21-9, 21-11).
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Last Updated Jun 19 2013 | 12:00 pm