Kidambi Srikanth clinched a historic silver medal in the World Badminton Championships after suffering a straight-game defeat to Loh Kean Yew of Singapore in the summit clash to notch up the best ever performance by an Indian in the men's singles here on Sunday.
A former world no.1, Srikanth lost 15-21 20-22 to Malaysia-born opponent in 43 minutes.
The 28-year-old Srikanth thus bettered the feats of legendary Prakash Padukone (bronze in 1983), B Sai Praneeth (bronze in 2019) and Lakshya Sen (bronze in this edition), whom he had beaten in the semifinals on Saturday.
The maiden silver also placed Srikanth alongside P V Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, who had finished runner-up in the past.
Sindhu had won the coveted gold in 2019, two silver and two bronze, while Saina claimed the silver at the 2015 Jakarta and a bronze at 2017 Glasgow.
It is also the first time that India won two medals in men's singles at the World Championships.
Despite the loss, it is a significant achievement for Srikanth, who has been dogged by fitness issues and lack of form ever since injuring his knee during the 2017 French Open final after claiming four Super Series titles that year.
Playing his first final since the 2019 India Open, 12th seed Srikanth fought dogged battle for supremacy with Loh, who relied on his explosive attacking game and lightening footwork to put pressure on the Indian.
Srikanth, currently ranked 14th in the world, had his moments but he squandered leads of 9-3 and 18-16 in the two games to see the coveted title slip out of his fingers.
The 24-year-old Loh started with a superb net dribble, opening up a 3-1 lead early on but Srikanth soon turned the tables by engaging his rival in short rallies and using his deception to set up the points.
Srikanth's tactics of delaying his returns earned dividends as he moved to a 9-3 advantage with a powerful smash.
Loh then tried to dominate the front court but Srikanth took a four-point lead with another smash on his rival's backhand at the mid-game interval.
After resumption, Loh found his footing as he clawed back 11-11 by winning the next four points and then unleashed a jump smash to grab the lead.
World no.22 Loh soon moved to 17-13 with Srikanth committing too many unforced errors.
A lightening fast net play helped Loh earn five game points and he sealed it when Srikanth erred next.
After the change of sides, the duo fought tooth and nail, moving 4-4 together.
Srikanth tried to engage his rival in flat exchanges, sandwiched with angled returns and smashes to move to a 7-4 advantage.
But again, unforced errors came back to haunt Srikanth as Loh made it 9-9. Another net error and it was advantage Loh, who entered the mid-game interval at 11-9.
Srikanth drew parity with a backhand cross-court flick, before moving to 16-14 by winning the longest rally with a precise cross-court net return.
At 18-16, Srikanth sent one to the net and missed the line, while Loh unleashed a body smash to gain a 19-18 lead.
Another fast-paced rally ended with the Indian going to the net to leave Loh with two match points.
Srikanth showed great courage at the net to save two match points but he erred next as Loh then pushed the shuttle at the backline with a precise return to go down on his knees in disbelief.
Loh thus became the first man from his country to win the World Championships title.
It was a big achievement for Loh, who made it to the final after a sensational post-Olympics season which saw him win the Dutch Open, Hylo Open and finish runner-up at the Indonesia Open Super 1000.
- With inputs from PTI