Coming back to the venue where they made the badminton world sit up and take notice of their talents, Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly produced another memorable result on Wednesday. With a superb performance, the Indians knocked out the seventh seeds in women’s doubles Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai in the opening round of the All England Open in Birmingham.
There was, however, disappointment for the Indian contingent as PV Sindhu’s campaign came to a close shortly after when she lost against Zhang Yi Man in straight games.
Later on, Kidambi Srikanth came up with a three-game 19-21, 21-14, 21-5 win over France’s Toma Junior Popov in men’s singles, while Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy paired up to beat compatriots Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala 21-13, 21-13 in men’s doubles.
The young Indian women’s doubles pairing of Tressa and Gayatri, who were semifinalists in 2022 after a sensational run, defeated the Thai world No 8 for the first time in five meetings. In fact, in the previous four meetings the Indian youngsters had lost in straight games.
But on Wednesday, they produced a sparkling display, combining defence and offence to good measure as they defeated Kititharakul and Prajongjai 21-18, 21-14.
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In women’s singles, Sindhu was coming into the tournament after a less than ideal start to the 2023 season. Returning after a long layoff, Sindhu had lost in the opening rounds at Malaysia Open and India Open. She then parted ways recently with coach Park Tae Sang. And at the All England, one of the major events where she doesn’t boast a great record, she looked out of sorts from the word go against Zhang. It was yet another first-round exit on the BWF World Tour for her this year as Zhang won 21-17, 21-11.
There were flashes of brilliance on the day but consistency eluded her. In the opening game, she did well to recover from a slow start to lead 16-13 but Zhang put together a run of seven straight points and closed out to take the lead. Sindhu needed some medical attention at 16-19.
Sindhu said her ankle has healed, but it is now a question of finding rhythm.
“It’s just the rhythm, you need to get it and then you’ll be there. It’s just my third tournament this year. I’m a bit sad, but it’s important to bounce back,” she told BWF.
She added, “This is my second major injury, the first one was in 2015 and took me six months. You need to get the rhythm, it takes time mentally even though you are fit.”
Sindhu also said the problem was giving points in clusters to Zhang. She added that she is still looking out for a new coach.
In the men’s doubles event, this was the first time since January that Shetty and Rankireddy were pairing up after the later had been sidelined due to injury. But the world No 6 team was quick to find the rhythm that has seen them become one of the most successful duos in the game. So strong were they, in fact, that the only times they were level with or trailed their opponents was at 5-5 in the first game and 3-3 in the second.
Srikanth meanwhile had to work hard against Popov in their first round match. The former world No 1 lost a tight opening game, but bounced back in the second after using his experience to take the lead at 7-7. In the third game, he took a whopping 9-0 lead before eventually claiming the match with a 21-5 scoreline in the third game.
On Tuesday, HS Prannoy and Lakshya Sen had registered opening-round wins in men’s singles.
Gayatri-Treesa with one of their best wins
The 0-4 H2H against the Thai pair notwithstanding, the Indians would have believed they were in with a chance in this one before the start given their good recent form. Having recently defeated another nemesis pair in Pearly Tan-Thinaah Muralitharan in straight games, they knew they had the capability to trouble Kititharakul and Prajongjai as well. And that was evident from the start. The Indians led 11-8 at the interval and their rotation on court had been quite good. The Thai duo fought back as they would but at 16-16, the Indians won a marathon point with Jolly diving to retrieve and closing the rally out with a backhand winner. From there, they held their nerves.
The second game was even in the first half but post interval, the Indians turned on the afterburners to race through. Eventually they had nine match points, three of which were saved before the Indian pairing celebrated one of their best wins.
In the other men’s doubles fixture featuring Indians, Ren Xiang Yu and Tan Qiang defeated MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila in straight games 21-16, 21-15. It was Arjun and Kapila’s first match of the year as a pair, with the former out of action for a while due to injury.
Ashwini Bhat and Shikha Gautam, in women’s doubles, bowed out 21-9, 21-8 against Baek Ha Na and Lee So Hee of South Korea.
In the second round, Srikanth will face the rising star of men’s singles, Kodai Naraoka next. For Gayatri-Treesa, they face another huge test against world No 9 and three-time world championships silver medallists Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota. Satwik-Chirag face a tough test too, taking on Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang, the pair that defeated the Indians in the Malaysia Open semifinal earlier this year.
Tuesday’s winners Lakshya Sen and HS Prannoy face Anders Antonsen and Anthony Ginting respectively.