On paper, it was a straight-games defeat for Lakshya Sen but he showed plenty of fight in the second round match against Viktor Axelsen in Birmingham on Thursday before going down 17-21, 18-21. Later in the day, reigning world champion PV Sindhu made it to the quarter-final with a solid performance against former world No 2 Sung Ji Hyun.
The Indian teenager, making his debut at the Super 1000 level on the tour, was eliminated in the round of 16 but he pushed the former world No 1 Dane all the way in a match that lasted 45 minutes.
Sen, ranked 29 in the world, came into this match on the back of a come-from-behind win against world No 18 Lee Cheuk Yiu on Wednesday. He started the match on even terms against Axelsen, matching the tall Dane shot for shot. The standout aspect of the match was how Axelsen engaged Sen in long, punishing rallies but the Indian did well to stay in the points long enough. Sen mixed defence well with aggression, as he emerged on the right side of a 50-plus shot rally.
But Axelsen stayed ahead overall, building a three-point lead on a couple of occasions. Every time Axelsen, pulled ahead the Indian brought things back. Eventually, Axelsen closed the game out 21-17. You just had to listen to the roar that Axelsen let out to know at the end of the opener to know it had not been easy for him.
The tiring Sen could have been forgiven for losing confidence when Axelsen opened up a 6-2 lead in the second game but he showed great character to fight back again. Sen even had the leads on a couple of occasions in a tight second game, but in the end, Axelsen’s experience proved to be the difference. The game, fittingly, ended with a long rally that Axelsen was able to close out.
In her round of 16 match against veteran Sung, Sindhu played a clean game for the most part. It was a professional display from the reigning world champion as she overcame the South Korean in 49 minutes. It was a physical battle that Sindhu won 21-19, 21-15.
Sindhu was pushed to the wall in the opening game by Sung Ji Hyun but managed to get out of difficult conditions and then kept control of the proceedings to clinch the match that witnessed a whole host of long rallies.
The opening game witnessed Sung bounce back repeatedly when Sindhu tried to pull away. The Indian had a 11-7 lead at the interval but Sung never let her get out of sights and even held a 19-18 lead. But Sindhu won three points in a row from there, with a gut-busting rally on game point that finished with an error from the Korean.
After a tight start to the second game, Sindhu kept Sung at arm’s length for most of the second half an eventually closed the match out on the first of her five match points.
Doubles pairing of Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy suffered their eight defeat on the trot against the experienced Japanese pairing of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi. The Japanese seventh seeds were too good on the day even though the Indian pair fought hard in patches and stayed in touching distance with their opponents. Ultimately, it was a 13-21, 14-21 defeat for the Indians.
With that result, Sindhu is the sole Indian remaining in contention at the prestigious event. She will face a familiar opponent in Nozomi Okuhara in the quarter-final.
The Japanese fourth seed will be facing Sindhu for the 17th time on the BWF circuit with the Indian currently enjoying a slender 9-7 advantage.
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