World No 3 Kidambi Srikanth and fourth seed PV Sindhu survived scares in the opening round, bouncing back after losing the first game in their resepective first round matches of the All England Open Super 1000 in Birmingham on Wednesday. But it was curtains for former silver medallist Saina Nehwal on the opening day.
Srikanth overcame a sluggish start before beating France’s Brice Leverdez in three games in a dramatic first round encounter.
Playing his first international match in over a month, Srikanth was rusty to begin with as Leverdez completely dominated him in the first game. The Indian tried to play his natural attacking game but all his shots were either going wide or into the net.
Srikanth pulled up his socks in the second game and grabbed the initiative, winning it 21-14 to force the match into a decider. In the early stages of the third game, it seemed like Srikanth was comfortably winning but then Leverdez dug deep into his tank and forced a turnaround, coming back from 6-11 down to make it 12-12.
That would soon become 14-14 and then 16-16 and then 18-18 as both players threw the kitchen sink at each other. Leverdez then won the rally of the match to make it 19-18 in his favour before Srikanth levelled it again. The Frenchman then had a match point but the Indian got one back again. It was Srikanth’s turn to have a match point, then, and he managed to convert it.
“I haven’t played too many tournaments in the last few months so matches like these will definitely give me a lot of confidence,” Srikanth said after the match. The 25-year-old has been fighting injuries since November last year and hasn’t really been at his best form that saw him win four Superseries titles in 2017.
Srikanth thereby avoided what could have been another big upset on a day that saw third seed Ratchanok Intanon lose to Canada’s Michelle Li 21-15, 14-21, 21-19. The Indian expects similar tough fights in the upcoming rounds. He is drawn to take on either England’s Rajiv Ouseph or China’s Huang Yuxiang next and if he wins that, he would be in his first ever All England quarter-final.
However, Srikanth isn’t thinking that far ahead. “It’s definitely going to be tough going deep into the tournament,” he said. “I would really like to play my best in the next round. I’m not really thinking about the quarter-finals [right now].”
Saina can’t break Tai Tzu jinx
Earlier in the day, Srikanth’s compatriot Saina Nehwal went down to world No 1 Tai Tzu Ying in straight games. This was Nehwal’s eighth straight defeat against the player from Chinese Taipei – she hasn’t beaten Tai Tzu since 2013 now.
“The first round itself was against the No 1 player so it was tough to play but after five weeks of good training I was happy to give her a good fight,” Nehwal said after the match. “I was able to pick up most of the shots but winning is tough against someone who is so consistent. I’m trying my best, so hopefully next time, yeah.”
The Indian women’s doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy also lost their first-round tie to the Japanese second seeds Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi.
Sindhu takes the scenic route
World Championships and Rio Olympics silver medallist, Sindhu needed three games to overcome Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong 20-22, 21-17, 21-9 in 56 minutes. Sindhu had the early lead in the first game but let it slip as her opponent, despite squandering game point opportunities, to signal a possible upset.
But the fourth seeded Indian star recovered in time to wrap up the next two games, with the decider lasting just 15 minutes.
Sai Praneeth took the first game against former World No 1 Son Wan Ho but the South Korean prevailed in three games, The Indian went down 13-21 21-15 21-11 in 59 minutes to make a first round exit.
It was also end of the road for Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy as they lost 22-20 21-12 in 40 minutes against local duo Ellis and Langridge.
Sikki Reddy lost the women’s doubles game but along with Pranaav Jerry Chopra, she entered the next round in mixed doubles with a 21-19, 21-13 win against Germany’s Marvin/Linda.