Thailand GPG 2017: Saina Nehwal, Sai Praneeth cruise on an otherwise disastrous day for India

India’s badminton bench strength was, unlike that of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, shown up in an indifferent light at the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold championships, when only a handful of tried and tested performers progressed, even as the majority registered a miserable flop show at the Nimibutr Stadium in central Bangkok on Wednesday.

Saina Nehwal and B Sai Praneeth, who have the distinction of being former Super Series title winners, were hardly required to break a sweat in this second-tier competition, while a steady stream of their compatriots were shown the exit door by mainly players from South-east Asian nations.

 Thailand GPG 2017: Saina Nehwal, Sai Praneeth cruise on an otherwise disastrous day for India

Saina Nehwal. AP

Second-seeded Saina, who has chosen to participate in a tournament to which she would normally not have given a second look, only to gain valuable match practice before the 2017 World Championships in Glasgow this August, literally strolled through her 25-minute long opening encounter against Slovakia’s Martina Repiska, conceding a total of 15 points – five in the first game, and 10 in the second – in what was a monumental mismatch. She runs into Malaysia’s Lee Ying Ying next.

The No 3 seed, Sai Praneeth, was also in cruise control mode, but was kept on court for eight minutes longer than Saina, while notching a 21-15, 21-13 verdict against Malaysia’s R Satheishtharan. The scores would have shown a wider chasm between the two players if Praneeth had not suffered from a relatively slow start, when he took some time to find his bearings and fix the length of his tosses. The Indian’s third round opponent is ninth-seeded Malaysian, Iskandar Zulkarnain.

If reigning Indian national champion Sourabh Verma, seeded No.12, also remained in the hunt for the men’s singles crown in this $120,000 tournament, it was partly because he was pitted against another Indian; and one of them perforce had to advance. Sourabh subdued fellow-countryman Anand Pawar after a titanic hour-long battle, at 21-17, 20-22, 21-14.

The 30 year old Pawar showed flashes of the tremendous potential he had revealed in his halcyon days, as also improved staying power, while running the elder of the Verma brothers ragged, but could not get across the line in the face of Sourabh’s consistency. The Indian next runs into fifth-seeded Frenchman, Brice Leverdez; and has a very real chance of progressing into the quarter-finals.

The only other Indian singles winner on Wednesday was an obscure 18 year old, Sai Uttejitha Rao Chukka, ranked No.129 on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder. Uttejitha waged a Homeric battle against Jesica Muljati of Indonesia, and saved six match-points before squeaking through at 13-21, 24-22, 27-25 in an hour and 17 minutes, by a substantial margin the longest match of the day. She next takes on Thailand’s Pattarasuda Chaiwan, late on Thursday evening.

In the three paired events, there was only one Indian player who went past the first round, while all others fell about like ninepins. Prajakta Sawant, whose lengthy rebellion against the Badminton Association of India (BAI) and national coach Pullela Gopichand made the headlines a couple of years back, joined hands with Malaysia’s Yogendran Khrishnan, to score a runaway 21-13, 21-12 victory over locals Chaloempon Charoenkitamorn and Chasinee Korepap.

As a reward for their first-round efforts, Prajakta and Yogendran have been handed the toughest of tasks for Thursday – they take on the top-seeded Thais, Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai, who have been streaking up the BWF ladder of late. The 20-year-old Dechapol is an outstanding player in the paired events, having won the gold medal in junior boys’ doubles at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Alor Setar, Malaysia.

For all the other Indians still in the fray after the opening skirmishes at the Thailand Open on Tuesday, it turned out to be an eminently forgettable day. The remaining four men’s singles exponents, Parupalli Kashyap, Shreyansh Jaiswal, Pratul Joshi and Subhankar Dey all bowed out in the second round, while the quintet of Rituparna Das, Reshma Karthik, Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli, Saili Rane and Ruthvika Shivani Gadde fell by the wayside in the opening round of the women's singles.

Kashyap, returning to top-flight competition after a long layoff due to injury, appeared a tad stiff and slow after the unaccustomed torture of playing a match at 2 am the previous night (which were actually the wee hours of Wednesday morning), and succumbed to the No.2 seed, Marc Zwiebler of Germany, at 21-14, 21-18.

Subhankar played his heart out against Malaysia’s Darren Liew, but could not halt his rival’s momentum, and lost at 21-10, 15-21, 19-21. Pratul found top-seeded Thai, Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, far too fast and positive for him, and went down tamely at 17-21, 9-21. Shreyansh was all at sea in the opening game against Thailand’s No.16 seed, Suppanyu Avihingsanon, but matched his rival point for point in the second stanza, before accepting defeat at 9-21, 18-21.

Of the five Indian girls who were beaten in the opening round, Saili Rane was the most impressive, keeping Malaysia’s Yen Mei Ho on court for 56 minutes before the latter’s superior stamina made all the difference in the eventual 19-21, 21-13, 21-12 scoreline. Indonesia’s Sri Fatmawati proved far too good for Ruthvika, and handed out a 21-18, 21-11 drubbing to the up-and-coming Indian.

Another couple of Indonesians were distinctly superior to their Indian opponents, and won by exactly identical scores. 23 year old Yulia Yosephin Susanto was a cut above Reshma Kartik, and Ruselli Hartawan was just as superior to Sri Krishna Priya, as the 21-14, 21-12 scoreline in both matches showed.

There was no surprise in Rituparna Das’ eclipse, for she had been pitted against top seed and local darling, Ratchanok Intanon. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old Indian matched the graceful deception of the 2013 world champion stroke for stroke for 40 entertaining minutes, and was certainly not disgraced in her 19-21, 18-21 defeat.

Of the two Indian men’s doubles combinations in the fray, the gangling Shlok Ramchandran and MR Arjun produced the better performance, but could not take their form of the first game into the rest of the clash against Thailand’s Tinn Isriyanet and Kittisak Namdash; and exited the tournament by a 21-15, 12-21, 13-21 scoreline.

However, Francis Alwin and Tarun Kona were beaten with a greater degree of comfort, at 21-9, 21-18 in 27 minutes, by the Singaporean duo of Terry Hee Yong Kai and Loh Kean Hean. The Indians had a fine chance in the second stanza of dragging the encounter to a third and deciding game, but fell short at the finishing line.

India actually had a seeded pair in the women’s doubles, but Meghana Jakkampudi and Poorvisha S Ram failed to defend their eighth seeding, and were put to the sword by Indonesians Tania Oktaviani Kusuma and Nisak Puji Lestari at 21-10, 21-18.

And so, at the end of yet another exhausting day of matches extending well past their scheduled time, and reaching out to the midnight hour, India was left with three contenders in the men’s singles, two in the women’s singles, and one half of a pair in the mixed doubles, all to contest the pre-quarter-finals of the Thailand Open. Not the most impressive of hauls for a sizable 43-member contingent!

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Updated Date: Jun 01, 2017 16:53:26 IST