London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal advanced to the quarter-finals of the Orleans Masters badminton tournament after prevailing over France’s Marie Batomene in the women’s singles round of 16 in France on Thursday.
For Srikanth Kidambi, it was a straight-game win but not quite straightforward as he overcame a gritty Malaysian opponent in Cheam June Wei to join Nehwal in the last eight.
This is a Super 100 event, which is part of BWF’s revised Olympic qualification period.
Running against time to make it to her fourth Olympics, Nehwal recovered from the opening game reversal to see off world No 65 Marie 18-21, 21-15, 21-10 in a 51-minute clash at the start of the day’s proceedings.
The fourth-seeded Indian, who had pulled out of last week’s All England Championships due to a thigh injury, will face either Malaysia’s Iris Wang next. The former world No 1 played with heavy strapping in the first match on Wednesday against Ireland’s Rachael Darragh but she breezed through that match in 21 minutes. On Thursday, she seemed to be moving well too but ahead of the third game, put on the bandage around her right thigh again, suggesting she was still facing some issues.
The first game, however, was entirely lost on Nehwal’s racket as the errors flew in the back-half. Service faults, forehands and backhands landing in the middle of the net meant the game was a very tight affair till the very end. But the Indian, rather fittingly, dropped the game with a serve that went long. But once she cut out the errors from her game (and even the ones she made came from aggressive intent and not passive rallying), she took control of the match.
Later in the day, Srikanth, clearly struggling to hit his best level, fought his way through. The men’s singles top seed was pushed by world No 78 Cheam June Wei in the second game but overcoming his frustrations, the Indian shuttler did enough to win 21-17, 22-20 in 46 mins. Srikanth had to save a game point against him that could have forced a decider but held on and let out a massive roar at the end, evidently relieved. He will face French shuttler Toma Junior Popov in the quarter-final in what will be their first meeting on tour.
Elsewhere, Ira Sharma, ranked 162 in the world, continued her surprise run and also made it to the quarter-finals after beating Bulgaria’s world No 71 Mariya Mitsova 21-18, 21-13 in 32 minutes. The 21-year-old Indian is up against Denmark’s Line Christophersen next. Sharma was a late addition to the main draw after an unnamed Indian player had to be pulled out for Covid-19 related reasons.
Seventh-seeded men’s doubles pair of MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila notched up a comprehensive 21-11, 21-12 win against Rory Easton and Zach Russ. In the previous round, they won 21-14, 21-16 win over another English pair of Matthew Clare and Ethan Van Leeuwen. Up next for them is Callum Hemming and Steven Stallwood, also from England.
Kapila then made it two wins in two matches on the day as he paired up with veteran Ashwini Ponnappa and progressed to the mixed doubles quarter-final. The Indians won 21-12, 21-18 against Callum Hemming and Victoria Williams from England. Another English pair await them in Jessica Pugh and Max Flynn.
In the men’s singles, Kiran George’s great run in the event came to an end as he lost 15-21, 21-14, 19-21 in a 63-minute match against French veteran Brice Leverdez. The Indian, ranked no 112, had earlier defeated All England 2021 semi-finalist Mark Caljouw and compatriot HS Prannoy, both in three games. The match against Leverdez proved to be one hurdle too high for George who impressed with his temperament in tough matches against significantly better ranked shuttlers.
Chirag Sen seemed set to pull off an upset against veteran Danish star Hans-Kristian Vittinghus. The Indian, ranked 101 in the world, had the third seed on the ropes with a 21-14 scoreline in the first game. But he seemed to be bothered by an injury to his right shoulder and Vittinghus picked up his levels as well to recover and win 21-14 9-21 17-21 after an entertaining 43-minute battle.
Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnu Vardhan reach the quarter-final against a fellow new men’s doubles pairing from Denmark. The Indians win 21-7, 21-13 against Kristian Kraemer and Marcus Rindshoj. They will face local favourites Christo Popov and Toma Junior Popov in the next round. The Indians beat Indonesian pair of Abiyyu Fauzan Majidand Habib Alfariz 21-10 21-17 in their previous match.
The day ended with defeat for the Indian contingent as Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Sikki Reddy’s poor run of results continued. The Indians lost 21-10, 21-7 against Nicholas Nohr and Amalie Magelund from Denmark.
Earlier, on Wednesday, Commonwealth Games bronze medallists Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy, seeded eighth, scraped past the Denmark duo of Amalie Magelund and Freja Ravn 21-9 17-21 21-19 in women’s doubles to avenge their defeat against them at Swiss Open. They have received a walkover in the round of 16 and face tough test against third seeds Chloe Birch and Lauren Smith from England in the last eight. However, Mithun Manjunath went down fighting 21-23 21-9 22-24 to Germany’s Kai Schaefer in a gruelling contest.