LONDON: India’s top shuttler Saina Nehwal romped into the knockout stage of women’s singles competition, while Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa also kept their hopes alive in the women’s doubles event after recording contrasting victories in their respective groups.
Saina, ranked fifth in the world, was in no difficulty at all as she brushed aside the challenge of Belgium’s Lianne Tan with a straight 21-4, 21-14 score line in a group E match, which lasted just 27 minutes, here yesterday.
Commonwealth Games gold medalist pair of Jwala and Ashwini also set the Wembly arena ablaze when they stunned world number 10 Yu Chin Chien and Wen Hsing Cheng of Chinese Taipei 25-23 16-21 21-18 in a Group B roundrobin match here.
In the women’s singles, 22-year-old Saina went into an attacking mode straightaway with court movements and put her opponent under tremendous pressure.
She took just nine minutes to wrap up the first game and had to work just a little harder to take the second game in 15 minutes to keep herself in the reckoning for an Olympic medal.
Lianne earned a couple of lucky points when the shuttle just kissed the net to fall in Saina’s side but beside that she didn’t pose any threat to the Indian in the first game.
On consolidating after taking the first game 21-4, Saina said: “I had to play it safe in the second game. One side is a bit faster so I had to be cautious to keep it in.”
“Sometimes it is too much in India. I understand it is the love of the country and I want to live up to expectations, but I have to remain focused,” she said.
On advancing into the knockout stage where she could face YAO Jie of Netherlands, she said “Now the pressure is on. I have to be ready for the kind of strokes that Yao will bring.”
Saina also said that she was now prepared to meet the Chinese and would have to change her strategy to counter them.
“I have to change my strategy because they will be ready.”
In the women’s doubles, Jwala and Ashwini were pushed to the backfoot after their first match loss in group B but the duo played out of their skin to keep themselves afloat for the knockout stage.
World number 20 Jwala and Ashwini blew an early 11-6 lead to allow the Chinese Taipei pair to claw back and earn a game point at 20-19 in the first game. The Indian combo then saved game point thrice before moving into a game point themselves.
However, they faltered once again to allow their rivals to come back into the match before finally restoring their second game point at 24-23. The Chinese Taipei player then found the net after a long rally to hand over the first game advantage to the Indian pair.
In the second game, Jwala and Ashwini tried to vary the pace of the long rallies but they were erratic as Cheng and Chien lead 11-7 at the break.
The Indian pair failed to negotiate the bodyline and angled smashes by their rivals and went wayward. The Chinese Taipei soon earned a game point at 20-14 when Ashwini hit the nets. Though the Indian pair saved a couple of game points but once again Ashwini hit wide to allow their rivals to comeback into the match.
In the decider, Jwala and Ashwini earned a small 11-9 lead early on. After the interval, they extended the lead to 16-12 and cautiously moved to 18-19 when a silly mishit by Cheng gave India the match point. Jwala and Ashwini didn’t make any mistake after that and sealed the match with a disguised drop. . The 2011 world champion bronze medalist pair of Jwala and Ashwini will take on world number 13 Shinta Mulia Sari and Lei Yao of Singapore in their last group stage match today.
Meanwhile, Lianne, who tried to give a fight to Saina in the women’s singles match, said she played quite well against Saina but did not have the skills to beat her.
“I played quite good actually but she is just much, much better than me and there is not much I can do.”
“It really surprised me that I lost the first set so easily. I did not know what to do. I have never played her before. In the second game I was more used to playing her. My coach told me not to play too slow and to just go for it.”
On her first Olympic Games experience, she said “It has been really, really good playing here, a really good experience. I am pleased I won my first match, but today she was too good for me.”
Saina had defeated Switzerland’s Sabrina Jaquet with a straight-set victory to launch her singles campaign in style on July 28. -PTI