London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal eased past Ireland’s Rachael Darragh in straight games in the women’’s singles opening round to make a winning start to her campaign at the Orleans Masters in Franche on Wednesday.
The Super 100 tournament in France is part of the restructured Olympic qualification period.
The fourth seeded Indian, who needs as many ranking points as possible to make it to her fourth Olympics, took just 21 minutes to beat Darragh 21-9, 21-5 and set up a clash with France’s Marie Batomene, ranked 65 in the world. It will be their first meeting.
Nehwal had pulled out of the opening round of All England Open Championships last week after suffering a thigh injury. She played on Wednesday with heavy strapping around her right quad region but moved with comfort on the court, managing to get her lunges right in what was just a brief test.
Top Indian male shuttler Srikanth Kidambi, seeded number one, entered the third round with a 21-15, 21-10 win over compatriot Ajay Jayaram 21-15 21-10 in 25 minutes.
In the first round, Srikanth had received a bye, while Ajay had prevailed 19-21 23-21 21-16 over fellow Indian Alap Mishra. Srikanth will next face Cheam June Wei of Malaysia, who is ranked 79 in the world. The Indian had won their only previous meeting.
The result of the day for the Indian contingent was an impressive come-from-behind win for world No 112 Kiran George against former top 10 shuttler HS Prannoy. The youngster won 13-21, 21-16, 23-21 after saving a match point in the decider. He was trailing 6-11 at the decider but showed great temperament to bounce back against Prannoy, who is seeded seventh at this event.
On Tuesday, George had stunned Netherland’s Mark Caljouw, who had reached the semifinals of All England Championships last week, 13-21, 21-18, 22-20 in a thrilling opening round match. George will be up against French veteran Brice Leverdez in the next round.
Another seeded Indian men’s singles player was also knocked out. Former Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap, seeded fifth, was defeated in straight games by local shuttler Toma Junior Popov 21-7, 21-17 in 32 minutes.
Chirag Sen (No 101) later defeated Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo (No 79) of Indonesia 21-13, 21-12 in 27 minutes to enter the round of 16. The Indian will face Danish veteran and third seed Hans Kristian Vittinghus next. Ditlev Jaeger Holm of Denmark ended India’s BM Rahul Bharadwaj’s campaign with a 21-15, 21-19 win.
Elsewhere, Dhruv Kapila and Ashwini Ponnappa advance in mixed doubles with a straight-games win. They defeated Bulgaria’s Iliyan Stoynov and Hristomira Popovska 21-8, 21-12 and will face Callum Hemming and Vicotria Williams from England next.
In women’s doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy overcame the Danish pair that defeated them at the Swiss Open recently. The Indians won 21-9, 17-21, 21-19 in 55 minutes against Amalie Magelund and Freja Ravn. They put together a good set of points from 18-19 down in the decider. They have received a walkover in the next round and are through to the quarter-finals.
Kapila then progressed in men’s doubles as well. Seventh seeds MR Arjun and Kapila advanced to the round of 16 with a 21-14, 21-16 win against Mathew Clare and Ethan Van Leeuwen from England. They will face another English pair in Rory Easton and Zach Russ.
Mixed doubles pair of Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy beat Austria’s Dominik Stipsits and Serena Au Yeong 21-7, 21-18. The Indian duo will meet Denmark’s Niclas Nohr and Amalie Magelund next.
Ira Sharma, who was promoted to the main draw from the women’s singles qualification, saw off France’s Leonice Huet 12-21, 21-14, 21-17 and will square off against Bulgaria’s Mariya Mitsova.
Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnu Vardhan defeated Abiyyu Majid and Habib Alfariz 21-10, 21-17. They are set to face Kristian Kramer and Marcus Rindshoj.
Late on Wednesday, Mithun Manjunath’s campaign had come to a close after a hard-fought defeat Kai Schaefer as he lost 21-23, 21-9, 22-24 in a 79-minute marathon clash. The Indian (No 119 in the world) had two match points in the decider against world No 69.
Also on Tuesday, Mithun had defeated France’s Lucas Claerbout 21-14 21-10 but Subhankar Dey lost 17-21 13-21 to Denmark’s Ditlev Jaeger Holm in the opening round.
(With PTI inputs)