World No.61 Ukrainian Maria Ulitina sent shockwaves at Riocentro-4 this morning with her upset of top Women’s Singles contender Saina Nehwal, sending the Indian fifth seed out of the competition with a straight-games victory.
With both players having beaten Brazil’s Lohaynny Vicente in Group G, Ulitina’s victory today ensured her promotion as group winner into the knock-out stage.
As her in opening match against Vicente, Nehwal made heavy weather of her underrated opponent. The Indian laboured to craft points, while frequently getting caught by Ulitina’s confident attack.
Briefly in the second, it looked like Nehwal would pull away, but Ulitina equalled at 15 and kept her nose ahead. Even a fluffed service into the net at 19-18 did not distract her, and she kept up the attacking tempo for the biggest victory of her career: 21-18 21-19.
“Everything worked well for me today,” said Ulitina (featured image). “My attack was very good and I was able to put her under pressure. It’s just an amazing feeling, I enjoyed the match. Everybody knows Saina was the favourite for the match so maybe it was difficult for her to keep pressing.”
Nehwal blamed a dodgy right knee for her loss.
“My right knee was hurting and affected my movement,” said Nehwal. “I tried hard, but I wasn’t able to do my best. The knee started hurting just before the Olympics, during training, but it got aggravated here. It’s a fat pad inflammation and I took an injection, but my movement was still painful. It’s definitely a heartbreaking loss… We tried to recover, to get it to heal… but there was not enough improvement.”
Ulitina’s upset was an aberration in the opening session as all other favoured players progressed to the round of 16. Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, her compatriot Akane Yamaguchi, and Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun powered through in straight games. Yamaguchi overcame a potentially difficult challenger in Tee Jing Yi in surprisingly easy fashion, routing the Malaysian 21-18 21-5 in 34 minutes.
India had better luck later in the session. PV Sindhu recovered from an opening game loss to post a combative win over Canada’s Michelle Li 19-21 21-15 21-17.
Men’s Singles ninth seed Kidambi Srikanth also brought cheer for India, holding off Sweden’s Henri Hurskainen in straight games.
Two-time Men’s Singles champion Lin Dan barely broke a sweat in brushing aside Vietnam’s Nguyen Tien Minh, 21-7 21-12, while his close rival Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia) spent five minutes lesser in disposing off the challenge of Singapore’s Derek Wong, 21-18 21-8.
Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long ran into inspired resistance from Portugal’s Pedro Martins, who was backed all the way by the crowd. Martins fell short by a narrow margin, 21-17 21-18.
Great Britain’s Rajiv Ouseph also quelled a difficult challenge in Japan’s Sho Sasaki, wrapping the match up 21-15 21-9.