It was a regulation forehand pick, dipping low, as Saina Nehwal attempted an awkward mix of squat and stretched retrieve. She would immediately wince in pain, and carry the shadow of that discomfort felt in the side hips for the next two points. Trailing 21-8 in the first against Danish Mia Blichfeldt, Saina would finally turn to the umpire, raise her racquet and retire hurt, after an afflicted 4-10 score in the second.
Commentator Gill Clark who had spent the match, enumerating Saina’s body of work – 15 straight All England appearances with consistent quarterfinals and a dozen World Championships, would wonder if this was the last that the Utilita Arena of All England would be seeing of her.
But in a game where Saina struggled to cover the court, her lunges laboured and her return to the central T reluctant, the iconic Indian trailblazer betrayed the toll a decade and half of badminton had taken on her body.
Indians who had not been allowed to take to the practice courts after another chaotic testing episode – would watch their pace-setter fade away on Court 1, as anything to her deep backhand or forehand back corner would extract a mighty effort out of her.
Points came from Mia’s nervous pushes that ended as errors. But any diagonal sprint that a Saina of yore would’ve scrambled to retrieve, would worsen her movements in the next rally.
All Mia had to do was tire her out. On the day, the 23-year-old didn’t even need to hit the top gear. Kashyap, sitting in the coach’s chair, would look ashen and worried even from behind the mask.
At one point, Saina ran backwards and completely missed the dipping shuttle, straggling back to balance with a glazed look. She had been bothered in Thailand similarly, but not looked this dire.
The straight smash, a sign that the Indian ranked 19 can put up a fight, was nowhere to be seen. For a split second it seemed like Saina would call for a doctor and get on with it. But she would shake her head imperceptibly, looking like she wanted to leave, but also knowing that she must. Mia would check if she needed help with carrying her kitbag for she looked in grave pain. Saina would decline and head back to the stoic applause of the empty stadium.
Sindhu looking sharp
PV Sindhu, meanwhile got over the first-day adjustment with drift and the light, and packed off Soniia Cheah 21-11, 21-17 in 39 minutes. A charge on the All England title will require her to expend as little energy as possible against Danish 20-year-old Line Christophersen in Round 2, while guarding against thinking too far ahead.
Charging into the next round 👊
On Wednesday, Sindhu would free her arms for some zipping cross-court powerplay. Briefly, it looked like she’d allow the match to dawdle into a decider. But she would regroup and finish it off, taking the last 4 points like a pro.
Prannoy vs Momota next
HS Prannoy might not be boastful about it. But he likes the giant-killer reputation he carries. Right uptill the Thailand Opens, he was revelling in his shock treatments of higher ranked players. The one exception might be Japanese Kento Momota, against whom he is subdued at a 0-6 head to head.
There was a 3-setter earlier in their meetings, but for most part Momota has slashed at Prannoy and sent him packing in straight sets.
After a 21-10, 21-10 workout against Darren Liew, Prannoy gets a chance to work his wily ways around the World No 1. Momota admitted to Kashyap and occasion of his return making him nervous.
The beast thinking through his carefully laid out BODMAS traps, can add to the anxiety a little more. Momota hasn’t exactly seen his skills go down the sieve in the last one year. But Prannoy has the confidence to pull out his ambush game and set some fear churning in the Japanese title favourite’s mind.
Sameer Verma, similarly, has a chance to lure Anders Antonsen into his defensive blitzes and try and score an upset after a 21-11, 21-19 win against Brazilian Ygor Coelho.
Indonesians forced to withdraw after plane passenger reports a positive
Lakshya Sen meanwhile did his job to beat Kantaphon Wangcharoen, and finds a relatively easier opponent in Thomas Rouxel compared to Anthony Ginting.
The Indonesian squad was asked to withdraw, when it emerged that an unnamed person their flight had tested positive, and they were felled under the close contact rule. This will be heartbreaking for Daddies, Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan as well as Jonatan Christie, who secured hard fought wins before the squad was pulled out. Sen will hence play the Frenchman instead of the Top 5 Indonesian, Ginting.
The grounding of Indonesians also opens a door for men’s doubles pairing of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, though they’ll need to beat Swiss Open champs Astrup-Rasmussen.
Sai Praneeth will take on Viktor Axelsen, who was taken the distance by 22-year-old Japanese Koki Watanabe.
Shivani Naik… read more