Kolkata: Former world No.1 Saina Nehwal, fighting to regain her match fitness after a prolonged bout of injuries, tried to take away the positives after a second round defeat to Indian youngster Malvika Bansod (21-17, 21-9) in Yonex-Sunrise India Open 2022 in New Delhi on Thursday.
An Olympic medallist in London 2012 and someone credited with being on the forefront of badminton revolution in the country, Saina was candid to admit it will still take her some distance to regain her usual fitness levels. Prior to Thursday, her only loss against an Indian opponent at the India Open was in the quarter final against PV Sindhu in 2017 while on the domestic circuit, any Indian to beat her was in 2006 (Aparna Popat) in Bangalore Nationals 15 years ago.
‘‘I came here to see where I stand and I was happy that I could go through these two matches. Malavika is a very good rally player. The body is now ready but my fitness is not anywhere close to where I am,’’ said Saina, whose run-in to the tournament was overshadowed by a social media spat with actor Siddharth.
In a media interaction after the game, Saina said: ‘‘The cartilege tear, along with the groin tear, was there from October 24 and I only started playing from December 26. The patella is an important part of the knee and I could only improve with the knee taking the load. In effect, I got 6-7 days of practice but my fitness is still a work in progress.’’
Lakshya Sen in all-India quarters
Meanwhile, India’s Ashmita Chaliha continued her strong run by beating France’s Yaelle Hoyaux 21-17, 21-14 to reach the quarter-finals while top seed PV Sindhu and Aakarshi Kashyap also made the last eight. Sindhu defeated Ira Sharma 21-10, 21-10 while Kashyap beat Keyura Mopati with an identical scoreline.
“I was playing her (Saina) for the first time and was not thinking of winning or losing. My game plan was to just keep the shuttle in play and keep moving her,” said Bansod after the match.
In the day’s other matches, men’s singles world champion Loh Kean Yew defeated Joo Ven Soong 21-12, 21-12 to reach the quarter-finals where he was also joined by Malaysia’s NG Tze Yong.
Lakshya Sen, the Indian youngster who finished with a bronze at the last World Championships, also moved to the quarter finals after defeating Felix Burestedt of Sweden 21-12, 21-15. He will face HS Prannoy in an all-India clash. In men’s doubles, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty defeated Shyam Prasad and S.Sunjith 21-9, 21-18.
In the other women’s singles pre-quarterfinals, third seed Jia Min Yeo of Singapore got the better of Anupama Upadhaya 13-21, 21-17, 21-12 while USA’s Lauren Lam defeated Tanya Hemanth 21-18, 21-11.