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Sluggish Sindhu goes down to Supanida in the first round

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Supanida Katethong dropped to her knees and let out a victorious roar as the shuttle landed wide on her forehand side. Across the net, PV Sindhu cut a forlorn figure. The scoreline of 21-14, 22-20 speaks of a futile late surge, but for the 45 minutes that the Indian and her Thai opponent spent on the court, there was hardly ever a doubt as to who stole the show.

Ranked 30 in the world — 23 rungs below the two-time Olympic medallist – Katethong exploited Sindhu’s sluggishness and evident rust to stun the raucous crowd into silence. With that, India’s top-ranked male and female shuttlers ended their India Open campaign on the opening day itself — world No 9 HS Prannoy had gone down to compatriot Lakshya Sen in straight games earlier in the day.

The Supanida encounter was always going to be a potential banana skin for Sindhu. The 27-year-old had lost to the same opponent at the same venue last year in a three-game semi-final and while Sindhu exacted revenge twice — at the Syed Modi International quarter-final and Swiss Open semis — she was stretched to three games on both occasions.

A naturally attacking player who tormented Sindhu with her jump smashes last year, Supanida chucked the tactic completely on Tuesday. Instead, she played Sindhu on the net, asking the Indian to lunge and retrieve while setting her up for an overhead return. Sindhu, coming off a five-month injury layoff following a stress fracture in her left ankle, was way off her best.

Supanida rarely gave her space to attack and punished Sindhu’s gentle lobs from the net at will. The first game was particularly chastening when the Thai came flying off the blocks and raced to a 4-0 lead. As the game wore on, Supanida brought out her precise cross court drops that had Sindhu lunging in vain.

“The plan was to play her at the net as much as possible, that’s what the coach told me,” the 25-year-old Thai said.

Her 9-2 lead soon became 11-4, and although Sindhu pulled it down to 13-11, 18 minutes is all it took for Supanida — who served a concoction of angles, deft touches, and powerful shots — to take the first game 21-14, fittingly with another error at the net from Sindhu.

“You have to go in every game with a different tactic. If you are using the same tactic in every match, it’ll be bye-bye very soon. I change tactics in every match, sometimes on each point. Everyone knows Sindhu is an attacking player, so I changed the tactics this time,” said Supanida’s coach Kim Ji-hyun, who coached Sindhu to World Championships glory in 2019, explaining her ward’s decision to trade jump smashes for deft net play.

Sindhu’s examination at the net continued in the second game, and with drift not being a major factor, Supanida, who had by now settled into a nice rhythm, went about her gameplan.

Two moments stood out in this passage that underlined Sindhu’s travails. Trailing 3-5, she was made to dive to her forehand side to retrieve a wicked cross court drop. Her flailing arm could meet only the thin air as stayed on all fours for a few inordinate seconds before slowly finding her feet.

Then, having fashioned a mini recovery and trailing 17-16, Sindhu was faced with another cross court drop, this time the shuttle dying to her left. Again, a full-length dive was not enough and as Sindhu got up, she banged her racquet on the court in frustration.

Still, she managed to take it to 19-all when the Thai player’s lift went wide after skimming the net but the latter took the game and match when a Sindhu forehand landed wide.

“I think she played very well. We were prepared for Sindhu because she is such a good attacking player. I think she controlled the pressure situations very well,” said Kim.

Saina, Lakshya win

Later, Saina Nehwal rolled back years to beat Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt 21-17, 12-21, 21-19 in 63 minutes to advance to the next round. Visibly lighter and significantly fleeter, Saina showed trademark tenacity to get the better of the world No 24.

“Over the last 2-3 months there has been a gradual improvement in my game. But today I could see that I worked on my stamina and overall hitting game,” said Saina who was coming off a tough three-game loss to world No 10 Yue Han in Malaysia.

“I’ve been getting really tough opponents from the first round, but I have to win some matches to get to the better rounds otherwise I will have to keep on facing tough opponents early on. I have to win such matches to gain confidence against the top 10 players as well,” the former world No 1 added.

Meanwhile, Lakshya Sen put up a defensive masterclass against compatriot HS Prannoy to win his opener 21-14, 21-15 in 45 minutes. Prannoy, who had a tough three-game loss to Japan’s Kodai Naraoka in Malaysia Open quarters four days back, struggled for rhythm throughout the encounter while Lakshya used the slow court to his advantage.

“I wanted to start from where I left off last year. We know each other’s games inside out. It’s unfortunate that me and Prannoy were paired in the same group again,” said the defending champion.


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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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