Kuala Lumpur, Jan 13: India's HS Prannoy went down fighting to world number 7 Japanese Kodai Naraoka in a gruelling three-game quarterfinals at the Malaysia Open Super 750 badminton tournament here on Friday.
The 30-year-old from Kerala ran out of steam in the 84-minute contest, losing 16-21 21-19 10-21 to the 21-year-old Naraoka, who seemed faster and fitter, despite playing two long matches in the earlier rounds.
This was Naraoka's third win over the Indian in as many meetings. He had defeated Prannoy in three games at the Singapore Open and World Tour Finals last year.
Prannoy played some crisp winners and showed his delicate touch at the net to recover from the opening game reversal but his younger rival managed to keep things under control in the decider as the Indian succumbed to a heap of unforced errors.
Naraoka, who came into the match after knocking out home favourites second seed Lee Zii Jia in 73 minutes and Ng Tze Yong in 72 minutes, showed exceptional recovery as he retrieved everything thrown at him, making Prannoy work extra hard for his points.
The opening game was level at 7-7 as the two displayed some breathtaking retrieving in the energy-sapping rallies. Naroaka eked out a two-point lead at the interval and managed to keep the pressure to earn the bragging rights.
In the second game, Prannoy tried to engage his opponent in long rallies, using tosses and clears and looked to finish with smashes. It worked for a brief time as he led 13-9 but Naraoka draw parity with four straight points after the Indian committed some errors.
Prannoy tried to keep the rallies tight and flat across the net but Naraoka again levelled at 16-16 before moving to lead with a net kill. A weak net return negated a towering smash from Prannoy as status quo was maintained at 18-18.
However, a precise return and a cross court smash in the nick of time gave the Indian two game points. Prannoy sent one wide before another superb rally ended with the Japanese sending out the shuttle as the match went into the decider.
Prannoy had a foot issue at the start of the third game, which started on an even knell before Naraoka produced two sensational shots at the net to win a tight rally and eke out a slender 5-3 lead.
The Japanese dominated the rallies thereafter with his variety of strokes, while Prannoy erred with his line to fall five points behind at the interval.
As the match wore on, Prannoy's accuracy suffered as he missed the lines on both flanks, allowing Naraoka to move to 14-6 lead. The Japanese was more patient in the rallies and pounced on any little opportunity to keep moving ahead.
At 7-17, the Indian unleashed a straight smash to break the run of points but a string of errors from a tired-looking Prannoy handed his opponent 12 match points.
Naraoka sealed it in his third attempt with a body smash.