Day eight of Rio Olympics 2016 saw long distance runner Lalita Babar keep India's medal hopes alive by qualifying for the women's 3,000 metre steeplechase finals, while rower Dattu Bhokanal topped the Final C to finish 13th overall. But it was yet another dismal day for Indian athletes, topped off by the women's hockey team's defeat against Argentina that dashed their quarter-final dreams.
Shuttlers Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy added a triumphant note late in the day, defeating Hiroyuki Endo and Kenichi Hayakawa of Japan in straight games, to end their campaign on a high.
Two more Indian runners — Sudha Singh and Nirmala Sheoran — along with the women's badminton doubles duo of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa and shooters Gurpreet Singh and Mairaj Ahmad Khan all flunked, to add to India's misery on Saturday.
The duo of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna went down fighting in the semi-finals of the mixed doubles tennis event, losing in three sets to the US team of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram.
The Indians won the first set quite comfortably before squandering the lead and going down 6-2, 2-6, 3-10 in one hour and 17 minutes at the Olympic Tennis Centre.
Bopanna stood out with his excellent returns and pinpoint placements at the net. Sania also played well with some intelligent service and good returns. Venus and Ram took their time to settle and find their groove. They were somewhat subdued in the opening set and were totally outplayed by the Indians. But a fired up Ram led the US comeback in the second set.
"We have to try and recover as quick as possible, mentally and physically. Probably more mentally. We have to go back, try and get some sleep, put some food in our body and recover for tomorrow," Sania said after the defeat.
Sania and Bopanna will now have to contest the play-off for the bronze medal.
Disappointed Indian fans can, however, take solace from Lalita Babar's performance, who shattered the national record in the women's 3,000 metre steeplechase event to qualify for the final round.
She finished fourth, clocking 9 minutes 19.76 seconds in the Round 1 Heat 2 at the Olympic Stadium to end overall seventh among the 15 qualifiers.
She qualified as a lucky loser, managing to squeeze in among the next top eight fastest outside the top two from each heat who qualified directly.
Lalita also became the first Indian woman to qualify for an individual Olympic track event final since PT Usha did so in 400m hurdles in the 1984 Games. She had finished fourth in the final.
The performance by the 2015 Asian Championship gold medallist was all the more praiseworthy as she had suffered a fall early in the race before putting in a stupendous effort to position herself in the leading group and even wresting the lead at one stage.
Lalita will be seen in the final on 15 August. "Now the focus will be on the final on Independence Day," said Lalita.
But Sudha Singh failed to qualify for the final round after finishing a distant 30th in the overall rankings. She clocked 9 minutes 43.29 seconds in Round 1 Heat 3.
In women's 400m, Nirmala Sheoran finished overall 44th among 57 athletes to crash out. The Haryana athlete clocked 53.03 seconds in the Round 1 Heat 1 event, to be placed sixth among seven athletes in her heat.
India's two golfers also could not provide any cheer, as SSP Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri finished tied 22nd and joint 57th respectively, after posting two-under 69 and four-over 75 scores in the third round.
Chawrasia, who took his three-day total to two-under 211, was looking set for a top-15 finish but two closing bogeys forced him to settle for a 69.
Lahiri continued his struggle and posted 75 — his worst score in three rounds. His 54-hole total stands at nine-over 222.
But while the others couldn't do much, rower Dattu Bhokanal impressed everybody by finishing on top of Final C in men's single sculls. He finished 13th overall.
Bhokanal, who was out of medal contention, topped the final ranking race in 6:54.96 minutes, which was his best timing among the four races he participated in the Games.
The performance of the women's hockey team, which conceded five goals in a single quarter, further doused the spirits.
Facing higher-ranked Argentina, the Indians were thrashed 5-0, as Sushila Chanu's side suffered its fourth consecutive loss in Pool B to end their chances of a quarter-final berth.
In a must-win game for both teams, Argentina sealed the match in the second quarter, scoring five goals in a mesmerising display of attacking hockey.
Martina Cavallero (16 and 29), Maria Granatto (23), Carla Rebecchi (26) and Agustina Albertarrio (27) all got on the scoresheet scored for the world No 2 side.
With this loss, India remain in sixth spot, while the US, Britain, Australia and Argentina made it to the quarters.
Shooters continued their dismal show in Rio, as Gurpreet Singh failed to qualify for the finals of men's 25 metre rapid fire pistol event, while Mairaj Ahmad Khan crashed out of men's skeet qualification round after a shoot-off for the final two spots.
Gurpreet finished seventh, just outside the six qualifying spots, with a cumulative 581 points with 24 inner 10s at the Olympic Shooting Centre.
Gurpreet, who was ranked 10th, scored 289 points with 10 inner 10s after the first qualifying stage. He scored 292 points in the second stage.
In skeet, Mairaj shot a total of 121 along with four other shooters, requiring a shoot-off for the final two spots to reach the semi-finals at the Olympic Shooting Centre.
The 40-year-old found himself out of the race after managing to shoot a +3 to drop to the ninth place.
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa added insult to injury, losing their third consecutive game, an inconsequential Group A match against Puttita Supajirakul and Sapsiree Taerattanachai of Thailand.
Already out of the quarter-final race, Jwala and Ashwini lost 17-21, 15-21 against Puttita and Sapsiree.
The Indian pair ended their Group A campaign with three consecutive losses. The Thai pair managed a win, but it was not enough to take them through.
But the men's doubles pair Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy ended their Olympic campaign on a positive note with an easy win. Attri and Reddy were off to a superb start against Endo and Hayakawa, opening up a comfortable 8-3 lead before the Japanese duo fought back to win eight of the next nine points and take a 11-9 lead at the break.
To their credit, the Indians continued to chip away at the deficit and eventually regained the lead at 20-19 before closing off the game and claim a 1-0 lead.
The second game was a completely one-sided affair as the Indians dominated proceedings with their powerful smashes and slick placements.
Attri and Reddy were enjoying a comfortable 11-5 lead at the break before claiming a well-deserved victory.
With inputs from agencies