Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal on Wednesday made a positive start to her campaign at the All England Championship by notching up a difficult three-game victory over Sapsiree Taerattanachai of Thailand to reach the pre-quarter-finals of the US$ 400,000 badminton tournament in Birmingham.
The 22-year-old Olympic bronze medallist took 53 minutes to get across Sapsiree 21-8, 18-21, 21-16 in the opening round of the women's singles competition at the National Indoor Arena here. She will next take on the winner of the match between Belaetrix Manuputi and Minatsu Mitani.
However, it was curtains for mixed doubles pair of Tarun Kona and Ashwini Ponnappa as they lost 18-21, 10-21 to Fran Kuyrniawan and Shendy Puspa Irawati in a 24-minute match. Akshay Dewalkar and Pradnya Gadre too failed to cross the first hurdle, losing 8-21, 13-21 to Malaysian duo of Jian Guo Ong and Yin Loo Lim in another match.
Saina was off the block in style, reaching away to a 7-2 lead first up and went into the breather at 11-2. The Indian, who will turn 23 later this month, kept her rival under pressure all through out the game and held on to her lead to eventually pocket it comfortably at 21-8 in 11 minutes.
The second game started off on an even knell as both were locked 4-4 initially but Sapsiree soon stepped on the gas and stormed ahead, leading 11-7 midway. After the break, Sapsiree kept her pressure intact and slowly went to 19-16. Saina tried to gain parity and pulled back a couple of points ut the Thai didn't allow the game to slip out of her hand and reeled off two points to bounce back into the contest.
In the decider, Sapsiree lead 5-4 early on but Saina slowly started dominating again and notched up a few straight points to lead 17-13. The Thai found it hard to narrow the gap as Saina sealed the issue quite comfortably in the end.
Saina had faced Sapsiree in the Korean Open earlier in the season and although she won, the Thai girl had stretched the match to a three-game match. With this win, Indian holds a 5-0 record against Sapsiree.
On a day of upsets, Saina too had her share of good news as her arch-rivals former world number one Yihan Wang and Olympic Champion and top seed Li Xuerui crashed out with defeats in the opening round itself.
Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images