Kazumasa Sakai stunned World Championships bronze medallist Sai Praneeth 15-11, 15-13 as the Pune 7 Aces clashed with defending champions Bengaluru Raptors in the second semi-final at the Premier Badminton League here on Saturday.
Sai Praneeth had lost his solitary meeting on the BWF World Tour to world number 73 Sakai and it looked to be heading the same way when he squandered 11-8 advantage as the Japanese started injecting more pace and power into his shots.
Sakai displayed tremendous resilience and courage under pressure to take seven points in a row and sneak out the first game 15-11 in a remarkable turnaround.
His net rushes put the world No. 11 in a spot of bother as the lower-ranked Japanese shuttler inched ahead to 8-4 in the second game and kept that momentum going to lead 11-8.
Sai Praneeth showed his intent of coming back when he started finding the lines and closed the gap to just one point at 10-11. The India No. 1 saved a match point with a smash but Sakai held off the surging Sai to complete the big upset.
In the other men's singles match of the day, world No. 131 Mithun Manjunath of Pune put up a gallant effort against world No. 39 Brice Leverdez in their first-ever encounter.
Leverdez pulled through ultimately 15-14, 9-15, 15-6 but not before surviving a scare from the rising star who came to the PBL riding on the confidence of winning a Senior Ranking Tournament in Bangalore.
Manjunath's smashes did the talking for half of the first game with him building an 8-6 lead before Leverdez rebounded. Manjunath saved a game point in a tense ending to the game only to see the Raptors ace take it 15-14.
An error-prone Leverdez completely lost his way in the second game as he kept dumping his smashes into the net but was able to find his firepower once the match moved into the decider.
Although Manjunath remained on his heels, the former world No. 19 slowly separated himself from his young opponent to go up 8-5.
In his haste to get quick points, Manjunath kept making errors. The Frenchman's stubborn defense also did not help the youngster to make any comeback into the match as he raced away to 12-6 before Leverdez notched up his fourth win on the trot.
Earlier, Pune began the tie with a solid display in their Trump match. World champion Hendra Setiawan and world No. 10 Chirag Shetty's sizzling partnership has been the backbone of the Aces' success this season and they put up yet another brilliant show of power and precision to beat Bengaluru's Arun George and Rian Agung Saputro 15-12, 15-10.
It was the sixth victory for the pair in seven appearances for Pune this season.
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