Friday, August 12, 2016
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO & SHI TANG
Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo and Kenichi Hayakawa were the highlight of the opening session as the Badminton Competition at the Rio Olympics started in front of a boisterous crowd that enjoyed itself thoroughly.
Endo and Hayakawa’s (featured image) Group D victory over China’s Chai Biao and Hong Wei showcased the best of Men’s Doubles badminton to the crowd which had a fair Brazilian and Japanese presence.
With the group featuring three top-ten Men’s Doubles pairs, the opening match had plenty riding on it. The match was every bit as tight as anticipated, with the Japanese edging past the Chinese 21-18 14-21 23-21.
Chai/Hong led by a bit in the third, but the Japanese steadied their ship when it mattered and kept their noses ahead at the end, converting their third match point by wrong-footing Hong at the deep backhand corner.
In the same group, World champions Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia) got their campaign off to a smooth start beating India’s Sumeeth Reddy/Manu Attri 21-18 21-13.
In Women’s Doubles Group B – another group expected to go down the wire – China’s Luo Ying and Luo Yu gave an impressive account, beating BWF World Championships silver medallists Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl 21-11 21-18.
The Chinese started off strongly, and although the Danes recovered in the second, the Luo twins saw off their challenge at the death.
“We came in with too much energy,” said Pedersen. “I’m afraid they played a really good game. We really wanted to keep the attack, and they had the good strokes and maybe a few lucky decisions. All the close rallies ended up for them. We talked to our coach at the break, and he said remember to keep the shuttle at the back as well. We tried our best, but we have to give them credit. I’m not surprised at all by their performance, under these conditions, they are one of the best pairs in the world, they controlled the shuttle very well. The shuttles are a bit slower than normal, and there’s no drift at all, so must say they played very well.”
Women’s Doubles top seeds Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi had lesser trouble from India’s Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa than they might have expected, coming away victors 21-15 21-10 in their opening Group A assignment.
“We’re coming into this tournament feeling refreshed,” said Takahashi. “The first match is always hard. We came in with some specific plays and were able to execute them well today. I thought I’d be nervous, but I wasn’t.”
Indonesia’s Nitya Krishinda Maheswari/Greysia Polii were comfortable winners over Hong Kong’s Poon Lok Yan/Tse Ying Suet (Hong Kong) in Group C.
There were no surprises in the opening session, with Men’s Singles hotshots Lin Dan, Chen Long (both China) and Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei cruising through. Of the three, Chen Long was given a nice workout by Sri Lanka’s Niluka Karunaratne, who showed plenty of pluck during his 21-7 21-10 loss.
Lin Dan destroyed David Obernosterer (Austria) 21-5 21-11 in 36 minutes (Group E), while Lee Chong Wei was barely stretched in his 21-2 21-3 rout of Suriname’s Soren Opti (Group A). Another top contender, Viktor Axelsen (Denmark) was impressive in his 21-14 21-13 demolition of Thailand’s Boonsak Ponsana.
“So far so good,” said two-time Olympic champion Lin. “There are still some issues with the wind. I’m just happy to be here, happy to have qualified. There are a lot of good players in the draw; let’s see how things go.”
Mixed Doubles defending champions Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei (China) were among the six pairs who got the Badminton Competition off to a start. Zhang/Zhao were troubled by Germany’s Michael Fuchs/Birgit Michels in the opening game but had it easier in the second, 21-19 21-16, as they started their Group A campaign on a happy note.
“We didn’t play well in the opening game,” said Zhao. “We were a bit conservative. Perhaps because we were yet to get used to the court. We’re not feeling any pressure, though.”
Group D saw Japan’s Kenta Kazuno/Ayane Kurihara get past Netherlands’ Jacco Arends/Selena Piek (21-14 21-19), while Korea’s Ko Sung Hyun/Kim Ha Na breezed past USA’s Phillip Chew/Jamie Subandhi 21-10 21-12 in the same group.
India’s two Women’s Singles contenders Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu won their opening matches: while Sindhu had it easy against Hungary’s Laura Sarosi (21-8 21-9), Nehwal was dragged into an engaging battle by local hopeful Lohaynny Vicente, with the Brazilian backed by a raucous crowd and lifting herself with every point won. There was to be no upset, however, with Nehwal coming away winner at 21-17 21-17.
“I’m surprised at how well she played,” said Nehwal. “She was picking up a lot of my shots. Perhaps she was inspired by the crowd. I was just trying to get moving, get the rallies going. The opening match in the Olympics will always be difficult.”
Other Women’s Singles stars, like Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand), Carolina Marin (Spain) and Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) faced little trouble.