India’s ace shuttlers PV Sindhu and Srikanth Kidambi started off with straight-game victories in their group stage matches at the season-ending BWF World Tour Finals in Bali on Wednesday while doubles pairs tasted defeats.

Former world No 1 secured a straight-game win over France’s Toma Junior Popov while reigning world champion Sindhu also followed that up with a solid win, and the exact same scoreline of 21-14, 21-16, against Denmark’s Line Christophersen.

In men’s singles, Lakshya Sen emerged as the winner in his highly anticipated clash with world No 2 Kento Momota after the latter retired just two points into the match. The score was at 1-1 in the first game when the Japanese star decided to retire after struggling with his movement, pointing to his back.

Momota and Rasmus Gemke both retired hurt in the first few minutes in their respective matches, leaving Lakshya Sen and top seed Viktor Axelsen as the winners from this group of four players and they are now set to progress to the semifinals.

Axelsen Sen “automatically progress to the knockout phase of the tournament with Momota and Gemke voiding their remaining matches,” the report by BWF said. “Under tournament regulations, Momota and Gemke’s remaining matches are walkovers. Their fixtures from today are considered a no match. Thursday’s scheduled clash between Axelsen and Sen will go ahead as planned.”

In men’s doubles, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty suffered a straight-game drubbing at the hands of Denmark’s Kim Astrup and Anders Rasmussen in their group opener. The Indian pairing were far from their best and made errors throughout the match, going down 16-21, 5-21 in 40 minutes.

Earlier in the day, the women’s doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy lost 14-21, 18-21 to second-seeded Japanese combination of Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida in their opening group B match. It was a hard-fought battle with the Indians creating opportunities in the second game against a pair that has been in tremendous form in Bali but paid for a few costly unforced errors in their bid to force a decider.

Srikanth, who had reached the knockout stage of the 2014 edition of the year-ending event, beat Popov 21-14, 21-16 in 42 minutes in his opening match of group B. He displayed a compact game, made fewer errors than he has had a tendency to in recent times, was alert and agile on the court, as his attacking game was effective against the world no 33 Frenchman.

The opening game was a tight affair in the initial part with the duo fighting tooth and nail.
Srikanth managed to eke out a slender 11-9 lead at the break and then came out with five straight points to move ahead to 16-10 and soon closed out the game. In the second game, Srikanth lagged 1-4 initially but he soon recovered to once again grab a two-point advantage at the interval.

Just like the first game, he made his way to a healthy 14-9 lead before moving to 19-14. A long shot from his opponent gave Srikanth four match points and he sealed it with some superb net play.

Srikanth will next face Thailand’s three-time junior world champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn, who lost a tight battle against Lee Zii Jia, the favoured shuttler in this group.

In women’s singles, former winner of the event, Sindhu started in fine fashion. She was dominant in the opening game after a neck-and-neck start, going on a run of nine straight points from 7-8 down. The second game saw Christophersen pick up the tempo in an attempt to force errors from Sindhu. It worked for a while and the game was finely poised, but once again Sindhu pulled ahead into the lead, this time from the 13-13 mark winning four straight points.

Sindhu faces Germany’s Yvonne Li up next who lost in two closely-fought games against top seed Pornpawee Chochuwong.

The biggest disappointment of the day was the doubles defeat for Satwik-Chirag, making their debut at the season finale event. Coming into the match with a 2-4 head-to-head record against the Danes, the Indian pair started off alright in game one but the second game was a complete blowout. With the world No 1 pair Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, and Olympic Champions Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin in the group, this defeat makes it near impossible for the Indians to progress from the group into the semifinals.

The tournament marks the end of the BWF World Tour season for 2021. The World Championships will be held in Huelva, Spain, from 12-19 December.

(With PTI inputs)