Reigning world champion PV Sindhu began her All England Open badminton campaign with a solid straight-games win against a familiar rival in Beiwen Zhang on Wednesday in Birmingham, while young Lakshya Sen joined her in the round of 16 with a contrasting win.
Meanwhile, Srikanth Kidambi suffered a fourth first-round exit in five tournaments in 2020 as he went down in straight games against third seed Chen Long. World Championships bronze medallist B Sai Praneeth also followed suit later in being eliminated. It was curtains for former world No 1 Saina Nehwal as well as she went down in straight games against Akane Yamaguchi.
On a day all his senior male compatriots ended up losing, Sen provided a moment of joy for Indian badminton by defeating the higher-ranked Lee Cheuk Yiu. Against the rising shuttler from Hong Kong, Sen lost the first game, trailed at the final change of ends but fought back on more than one occasion to win 17-21, 21-8, 21-17 in 59 minutes.
Sen, who had claimed five titles last year, was making his debut at the prestigious tournament and is currently 31st in the Olympic race. This win will be a boost for his confidence and he faces former world No 1 Viktor Axelsen in the round of 16.
Earlier, Sindhu defeated the world No 14 from USA 21-14, 21-17 to advance to the last 16.
In the first Super 1000 level event of the calendar year, the Indian had a tricky opener against Zhang, against whom she had a superior 5-4 record in nine meetings. In the first round at the prestigious tournament, however, Sindhu looked in control for the most part and emerged as the winner in 42 minutes.
Sindhu, interestingly, did not shake hands with her opponent at the start or the end of the match, choosing instead to go with the traditional namaste gesture. The tournament is being played amid concerns over the coronavirus situation in Europe.
Both players started off in rusty fashion in the opening game but Sindhu put the pedal on the gas in the second half and closed it out in 17 minutes.
The second game was a close affair with Zhang refusing to give up, even taking a lead into the mid-game interval. The American moved ahead 15-11 at one point with Sindhu making a couple of unforced errors. Then Sindhu tightened her game to bounce back with five straight points. At one point the two players were locked at 16-16 and Zhang was fighting hard to force the decider. Sindhu, however, won five points in a row from 16-17 to clinch the issue.
The sixth seed will now face South Korean veteran Sung Hi Jyun in the next round.
Men’s singles star continue to struggle
Later in the day, former world No 1 Srikanth Kidambi’s woeful run of form continued as he went down in straight games against Olympic champion Chen Long without much of a fight. Srikanth’s job of qualifying for Tokyo became more difficult as he lost 21-15, 21-16 against the Chinese star in just 43 minutes.
Srikanth had reached quarters last year and will therefore drop quite a bit of points in the race to Olympic Games qualification. He impressed in flashes in the opening game and delayed the inevitable in the second but overall, it was a comfortable outing for the two-time All England champion from China.
There was also a disappointing defeat for world No 10 Sai Praneeth as he lost to world No 36 Jun Peng Zhao from China 12-21, 13-21 in a match that lasted just 33 minutes.
In women’s doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy were declared winners in the opening round match with the score reading 5-4 in the opening game against local pair Jenny Moore and Victoria Williams. The Indian duo will take on seventh seeds Matsutomo/Takahashi from Japan next.
Earlier, Pranaav Chopra and N Sikki Reddy kicked off the Indian campaign in the tournament against top seeds Si Wei Zheng/Ya Qiong Huang in the mixed doubles first round. The Indian duo put up a creditable showing before going down 13-21, 21-11, 17-21 in a marathon opener.
Former CWG gold medallist Parupalli Kashyap retired hurt early on in his first round match, while trailing 0-3 in the opener against Indonesia’s Shesar Hiren Rhustavito.
In the final match of the day, Nehwal was outplayed by third seed Yamaguchi. The Indian’s poor run of results continued as he was defeated 11-21, 8-21 in a match that just lasted 28 minutes.
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