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Lakshya goes down fighting as Indian challenge ends

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Battered and bruised, Lakshya Sen sunk to his knees after one hour and 21 minutes as the vociferous crowd got up to applaud. Across the net lay Rasmus Gemke, drenched and drained. It was tough to tell the winner but for the scoreline that read 21-16, 15-21, 18-21 in the Dane’s favour.

In a match where the momentum changed with virtually every point, Gemke managed to keep his cool to advance to the quarter-final of the India Open here on Thursday.

Gemke, who had no answers to Lakshya’s jump smashes in the first game, controlled the rallies and dictated the momentum in the two games that followed. “I knew I had to play my A game. Lakshya was always going to be a tough opponent. I wanted to be patient and wait for the right opportunities,” he said.

World No 12 Lakshya, coming off a straight games win over compatriot HS Prannoy in the opening round, started the match strongly, nailing his jump smashes and finding the lines regularly. On more than one occasion, he enticed Gemke to the net before flicking the shuttle deep.

At 15-12 in the first game, the slow rally suddenly came to life with Lakshya snapping his wrist for a stunning backhand winner and followed it up with another smash to go 17-12 up.

Things, however, changed dramatically from there. The second game saw Gemke cut down on his unforced errors even as Lakshya’s execution faltered. With his net play becoming increasingly erratic, Lakshya tried some high tosses to keep the shuttle in play but ended up hitting long. The 9-11 deficit gradually swelled to 11-17 and it was not long before Gemke forced the decider.

The world No 20 Dane galloped to an 8-1 lead in the third game but Lakshya went on a five-point spree of his own to bridge the gap. At 15-17, the two played a breathtakingly high-tempo rally that encapsulated the match itself. With shots ranging from high tosses to half smashes, forehand drives to backhand flicks, the two went toe to toe before Lakshya hit one long. A rousing smash brought the gap back to two points but a service error, followed by a net cord, and yet another long hit handed the game and match to Gemke.

“I had a very disappointing start to the third set; going 1-8 down is not acceptable. I could have taken some breaks in between, tried something different… didn’t have to wait to go down by eight points and then start playing,” Lakshya said.

“I played well to cover up the game, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough.”

Gemke will now face world No 1 and compatriot Viktor Axelsen, who got the better of China’s Shi Yu Qi 21-16, 16-21, 21-9 earlier in the day.

With Saina Nehwal going down to Chen Yufei 21-9, 21-12 and the men’s doubles pair of Satwik Sairaj and Chirag Shetty withdrawing due to a groin strain to Satwik, the Indian challenge has come to an end in the Super 750 event.


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A ₹724 crore boost in union sports budget

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In the year of the Asian Games and qualifications for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the union sports budget saw a significant jump in allocation on Wednesday. The sports ministry has been allocated 3397.32 crore for 2023-24 – an increase of 723.97 crore from the previous fiscal. The budget for the previous financial year was 3062.60 crore (revised: 2673.35cr).

The Asian Games, postponed last year due to Covid, are due to be held in Hangzhou, China from September 23-October 8. India’s elite athletes have also started preparing for various Olympic qualification events.

Also Read | Sai Praneeth, Kiran George in men’s singles second round in Thailand Open

The allocation for National Sports Federations (NSFs) and Sports Authority of India (SAI) have gone up. Assistance to NSFs has been increased to 325 crore from 280 crore in 2022-23.

SAI has been allocated 785.5 crore, an increase from last year’s revised budget of 749.43 crore. It was originally allocated 653 crore in the last financial year. SAI oversees the preparation of national teams, manages national camps, provides infrastructure and other facilities to athletes besides appointing coaches, including foreign experts.

A big chunk of the sports budget will go for government’s flagship programme, Khelo India. It gets 1,000 crore, an increase of 400 crore from the revised allocation of 600 crore set aside for it in the previous budget. Under the scheme, Khelo India Youth Games and Khelo India University Games are organised. It has become the platform for talent identification and nurturing through its various schemes. The budget for Khelo India has steadily risen since its inception in 2018.

A major allocation of 107.84 crore has been made for the National Sports University in Imphal. Set up in 2018, NSU is a first-of-its-kind institution which imparts studies in sports science and medicine, coaching, sports management and technology.

The National Centre of Sports Science and Research, under which financial assistance is given to medical colleges and Universities to develop centres of sports science and research, has been allocated 13 crore.

There has been a 10 crore dip in incentives to athletes, from 55 crore last year. To fight the doping menace, the National Anti Doping Agency has been allocated 21.73 crore. The National Dope Testing Laboratory in Delhi, whose accreditation was restored by the World Anti-Doping Agency in December, 2021, gets 19.50 crore. A National Anti-Doping Bill was passed last year to create a statutory body for regulating anti-doping activities in sports.

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Sai Praneeth, Kiran George in men’s singles second round in Thailand Open

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Indian shuttlers B Sai Praneeth and Kiran George advanced to the second round of the Thailand Open Super 300 badminton tournament with contrasting wins over their respective opponents on Wednesday.

Praneeth beat Mads Christophersen of Denmark 21-13 21-14 in a battle lasting 31 minutes. He faces Hyeok Jin Jeon of South Korea in second round.

George, on the other hand, staved off a tough challenge from Lee Chia Hao of Chinese Taipei before emerging 21-17 19-21 23-21 victorious. He is up against third seed Cheuk Yiu Lee of Hong Kong in the second round.

However, Sameer Verma, Priyanshu Rajawat and Mithun Manjunath lost their first round matches. While Verma suffered 14-21 16-21 defeat against sixth seeded Chinese Shi Feng Li, Rajawat lost to Kwang Hee Heo of South Korea 21-14 19-21 25-27 and Manjunath was beaten 18-21 12-21 by fifth seeded Kenta Nishimoto of Japan.

In women’s singles, Ashmita Chaliha beat compatriot Anupama Upadhyaya 21-16 21-19 to reach the second round where she will face sixth seed Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt of Denmark.

The pair of Simran Singhi and Ritika Thaker lost to sixth seeded Sheng Shu and Shu Xian Zhang of China 8-21 10-21 in the women’s doubles.

In mixed doubles, Rohan Kapoor and Sikki Reddy beat Canadian pair of Ty Alexander Lindeman and Josephine Wu 21-11 21-16 to enter the second round. But the pair of B Sumeeth Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa lost to fourth seeded Indonesian pair of Rehan Naufal Kusharjanto and Lisa Ayu Kusumawati 11-21 17-21.

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Djokovic played Australian Open with 3cm tear in hamstring, says Tiley | Tennis News

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Novak Djokovic played with a three-centimetre (1.2 inches) tear in his hamstring during his run to a record-extending 10th Australian Open title, tournament director Craig Tiley said on Wednesday.

The Serbian, who suffered the hamstring injury en route to winning the warm-up title in Adelaide, won the season-opening major after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final for a men’s record 22nd Grand Slam title, matching Rafa Nadal’s haul.

“This guy I did see, he had a three-centimetre tear in his hammy,” Tiley told SEN Sportsday. “Absolutely (I saw the scans), the doctors are going to tell you the truth.

“There was a lot of speculation about whether it was true or not, it’s hard to believe that they can do what they do with those kinds of injuries.

“He’s remarkable, to deal with it extremely professionally.”

Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic said after the final that the world number one battled the injury, which would have forced most players to quit.

“He’s so focused on everything he does, with every single minute of the day,” Tiley added. “That’s what he eats, what he drinks, when he does it, how he does it.

“There’s no breakdown or mental breakdown in anything that he does. He’s been through a lot and to win 10 Australian Opens, I don’t think that’s ever going to be repeated… He’ll hold a significant place in the history of the Australian Open.”

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