ORLEANS (FRANCE), April 3 (IANS): Indian shuttler Mithun Manjunath settled for a silver medal after losing to home favourite Toma Junior Popov in the men’s singles final of the Orleans Masters 2022 badminton tournament here on Sunday.
Playing in his first BWF final, the 79th ranked Indian shuttler lost to the world No 32 Frenchman 11-21, 19-21 in 50 minutes at the Palais des Sports arena. This was also the first meeting between the two players.
The 23-year-old Manjunath began the match cautiously as both players were tied at 6-all after early exchanges. However, Junior, the defending champion, used his reach to good effect and went into the break leading 11-6.
From there on, it was one-way traffic as Indian failed to counter a series of smashes from the former junior European champion to go 1-0 down. Manjunath tried to force Popov into playing longer rallies in the second game and the plan worked. A number of unforced errors by the Frenchman helped him take a 12-6 lead.However, the French shuttler mounted a comeback with some sharp returns and successfully defended his BWF Super 100 crown.
Up until the final, Manjunath enjoyed a fine run in the tournament. The unseeded Indian stormed through five rounds which included a win against world No 22 Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus of Denmark in the round of 16, an olympics.com report said.
Manjunath emerged as India’s best hope after B Sai Praneeth, the top seed at the tournament, crashed out early in the pre-quarters. The women’s doubles pair of Ashwini Bhat K and Shikha Gautam were the only other Indian players to make it to the semi-finals at the Orleans Masters 2022.
Notably, the top Indian players like PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen did not compete in the tournament. They are expected to be in action at the Korea Open BWF Super 500 event which begins on Tuesday.
The shuttler from Bengaluru was rated highly during his junior days and he also had one or two odd performances in the circuit like reaching the quarters at 2018 Czech Open and back-to-back semi-finals finishes at Vietnam Open and Russian Open in 2018.
However, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic that he decided to work hard on his fitness, something which has helped him to stay longer in the rallies and outlast his opponents in the three-game contests.
He had reached the semi-finals of Infosys foundation India International in October last year.
However, COVID-19 disrupted his plans as he was one of the players who was withdrawn from the India Open Super 500 event ahead of his second round match against India’s H S Prannoy after testing positive for the virus.
He, however, reached the last four at Lucknow and the quarters in Odisha in January. He was also part of the Indian team which competed at the Badminton Asia Team Championships in Malaysia.