Saina makes first-round exit from All England; Olympic qualification bid takes a hit


PTI, Mar 12, 2020, 12:32 PM IST

Birmingham: Indian badminton star Saina Nehwal’s chances of qualifying for the Olympics took a hit after she made a first-round exit from the All England Championships, following a loss to Japanese nemesis Akane Yamaguchi.

Up against world number three Yamaguchi, it was a tough opening round for Saina, who lost 11-21 8-21 in just 28 minutes on Wednesday.

However, in men’s singles, Lakshya Sen prevailed over Hong Kong’s Cheuk Yiu Lee 17-21 21-8 21-17 in a grueling first round, which lasted 59 minutes. Sen will now clash with second seed and world number seven from Denmark Viktor Axelsen for a place in the quarterfinals.

Saina is placed 20th on the BWF rankings with 46267 points and the 2012 London Olympics bronze-medallist needs to enter the top-16 bracket by April 28 to make the cut for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

She now needs strong performances to pocket crucial ranking points but considering that several sporting events are being canceled in view of the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak, it remains to be seen how many she actually gets to play.

The 29-year-old is scheduled to compete at the Swiss Open (March 17-22), India Open (March 24-29) and Malaysia Open (March 31-April 5) in the following weeks.

It was Saina’s ninth defeat in 11 matches against the formidable Japanese and her third first-round exit this season.

With Saina’s defeat, reigning world champion PV Sindhu is the only Indian left in the women’s singles draw. Sindhu on Wednesday beat American Beiwin Zhang in straight games.

The 18-year-old Sen is the only Indian left in fray in the men’s singles draw as P Kashyap retired from his first-round contest against Shesar Hiren Rhustavito and B Sai Praneeth lost his on Wednesday.

Kashyap’s match lasted just one minute. He was trailing 0-3 when he decided to call it quits.

In women’s doubles, Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy will open their campaign against the British pair of Jenny Moore and Victoria Williams.

The mixed doubles pair of Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy advanced to the second round when top-seeded Chinese pair of Si Wei Zheng and Ya Qiong Huang retired while trailing 4-5.

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