| London: India’s Parupalli Kashyap became the first Indian male to reach the quarter-finals at the Olympics after securing a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Sri Lanka's Niluka Karunaratne in the men’s singles event of the London Olympics 2012 at the Wembley Arena here.
The 21st ranked Kashyap had to bring in all his experience and craft into play to quell the strong challenge of his rival, ranked 27 places below him in the world chart, 21-14 ,15-21, 21-9 in the pre-quarter final clash that lasted 66 minutes.
The 25-year-old Hyderbadi thus emulated the feat of Saina Nehwal, who became the first-ever Indian to reach the last-eight stage in the Beijing Games four years ago.
Kashyap survived a scare from the 5 feet 8 inch tall Sri Lankan in a match that witnessed several long rallies.
The Indian was made to work hard for every point as the Sri Lankan showed excellent retrieving power and engaged his opponent in long rallies.
In the first game, Karunaratne went ahead to a 7-4 lead but Kashyap got the measure of his opponent quickly and showed flashes of experience to first narrow down the gap and then build a healthy six-point lead at 17-11.
Kashyap delighted a packed audience with some beautiful cross-court winner and his trademark drop shots to pocket the first game with a powerful smash.
The Sri Lankan, however, made an impressive return in the second game and involved the Indian in long rallies, forcing Kashyap to commit sideline errors.
It looked like the discussion with his father coach during the break had instilled a new belief in the Sri Lankan as he came back more determined and took a commanding 10-point lead at 18-8.
Kashyap, however, tried to make a comeback and saved eight game points but Karunaratne clinched the game with a smash.
In the decider, both fought tooth and nail for every point and did not allow an inch to make inroads.
If Kashyap played aggressively and employed his drop-shots to perfection, the Sri Lankan retrieved everything that the Indian threw at him.
The 27-year-old from Galle turned out to be a surprise package for Kashyap as he used his round the head cross-court winners to good use.
But Kashyap kept his composure and gradually increased his lead from 7-5 to 11-5 and then made it a decisive 18-9.
The long-rallies sapped the energy out of Karunaratne as in the end, he offered little fight to the Indian who won the decider and the match after the Sri Lankan's smash went outside the line.
Kashyap will meet the winner of the match between Indonesia's Simon Santoso and world number two Lee Chong Wei of China in the last-eight stage.
The previous best performances were by Dipankar Bhattacharjee, who entered the pre-quarterfinals at the 1992 Barcelona Games, and Pullela Gopichand, who lost in the pre-quarters at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Sports Minister Ajay Maken congratulated Kashyap on Twitter.
"KASHYAP on his day is a World Champ! Congrats KASHYAP! Congrats Coach GOPI! We are proud of both of your wards Saina & KASHYAP!" he twitted.
First Published: Wednesday, August 01, 2012, 14:40