Paralympics: Yathiraj wins silver, says happy and disappointed at the same time
Tokyo: Playing aggressively and at a good pace, India’s Suhas Yathiraj won the first game against France’s World No. 1 Lucas Mazur in the final of the Men’s Singles SL4 class but could not close the match and went down fighting in three well-fought games. The 38-year-old unseeded Indian thus won a silver medal in the badminton competition at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games here on Sunday.
Yathiraj gave the Frenchman, the three-time world champion, a mighty scare as he won the first game, breaking away from 7-7 to win 21-15 as Mazur struggled to keep up with the pace set by the 38-year-old Indian.
Yathiraj had handy leads in the second and third games but Mazur was too experienced and too skilled and fought back from a game down to win 15-21, 21-17,21-15 in just over an hour to win the gold medal.
Yathiraj said he was disappointed in letting the gold slip from his grasp.
“Very emotional feeling for me. I have never felt most happy and most disappointed in my life at the same time — most happy because of the silver medal but most disappointed because I missed the gold by a whisker. But at the same time destiny gives you what you deserve so at this time I deserve a silver medal, so I am happy for that,” said Yathiraj after the medal ceremony.
Tarun Dhillon, the second Indian in the SL4 class, who had lost to Mazur in three games on Saturday, failed to overcome the disappointment as he went down tamely 21-17, 21-11 to Indonesia’s Fredy Seitiawan to miss out on a bronze medal. Tarun was the second seed in the SL4 class behind Mazur and expected to meet him in the final. But a loss to Seitiawan in the Group Stage meant he finished second and thus had to play the top seed in the semifinal.
But there were no such problems for Yathiraj, who is the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar (NOIDA) in Uttar Pradesh and had practiced mostly in the nights after work to play in the circuit, who came out all guns blazing. He played aggressively and at a great pace to unsettle the seasoned French star. It was the right tactics to stump the French World No. 1 who is known for his power play and blazing smashes.
Yathiraj controlled the pace in the first game and took an early lead in the second too. However, he could not close the match as the French player slowed down the pace and used his superb netplay to overcome the challenge posed by his Indian opponent.
Mazur, who was trailing 12-15 at one time, took control of the proceedings and mixed brilliant overhead smashes and deceptive placements with deft touches at the net to win nine of the next 11 points to bag the second game 21-17.
Yathiraj held a slight advantage in the third and deciding game too and was leading at the midway stage. But Mazur fought back again and levelled scores at 13-13 before winning the game, match, and gold medal at 21.15.
This was Yathiraj’s first medal in the Paralympic Games. He was among the last of the Indian para-badminton players to book his berth to Tokyo Paralympic Games on a bipartite quota. However, the 38-year-old played at a high level in Tokyo where he was unseeded.
Yathiraj said he missed hearing the National Anthem being played at the ceremony. “That is what you pray, that is what you hope and that is what you dream for. As I said I have never been more disappointed and more happy in my life, coming so close yet so far. Still winning the Paralympic Games silver medal is not a small thing. I am extremely proud and happy for what I have done,” Yathiraj was quoted as saying in a video provided by the Paralympic Committee of India and Eurosport, the official broadcaster for India.