Ace shuttler Saina Nehwal finally broke her jinx at the $250,000 Indian Open Super Series badminton, storming into the quarter-finals of the women's singles with a straight-game victory over Thailand's Natcha Saengchote, in Delhi, on Thursday.
The world No 8 Indian did not go beyond the second round in the last three editions of the Open and broke the hoodoo when she thrashed Natcha 21-15, 21-12 in just 35 minutes at the Siri Fort Sports complex.
India's Parupalli Kashyap also continued his good run to reach the quarter-finals. He prevailed over his training partner, R M V Gurusaidutt, 21-15, 16-21, 21-11 in the men's singles.
However, it was heartbreak for Malaysia Open finalist Sourabh Varma, Trupti Murgunde, former National champion Sayali Gokhale and Commonwealth Games gold medallists Jwala Gutta-Ashwini Ponnappa as they all crashed out in the second round.
Saina took time to get going initially but fought back from 2-5 down to lead 11-8 at the break. However, a series of unforced errors allowed Natcha to draw parity at 12. Saina tried to vary the pace but faltered at the net as the lead changed hands frequently till 15-15.
But the Indian soon started dictating terms, reeling off six straight points to close the first game with a smash that left Natcha clueless.
A series of unforced errors put paid to Natcha's hopes as she trailed 3-11 in the second game. The Thai girl tried to fight back and narrowed the gap to 9-15 and then 12-17, with Saina faltering with her slices that got burried into net. But the Indian soon got hold of her game and romped home with a four-point burst.
"It was a good match. I was playing her for first time. Starting was confusing; she has sharp strokes, but as the match progressed I became more confident. The second game was better, even in terms of movement. I was sluggish at the start but, overall, I think it is good for tomorrow's match against the Chinese player," Saina said.
A former world No 6, Kashyap maintained the pressure on Guru from the start and kept him at bay to pocket the first game.
In the second, Guru tightened his defence and slowed down the pace to bounce back.
He opened up a 7-3 lead in the decider, but Kashyap turned the tide and zoomed ahead with a nine-point burst before cruising home.
"It was a mentally tough game. Guru had beaten me twice earlier, so I was under pressure. The reason being I am senior to him in the academy and Guru always plays his best against me. He gets his rhythm," he said.
"Today the games were moving on a slow place. I am an attacking player and comfortable with the fast games. Guru has got a good defence; he cuts down the pace of the rallies. So even a slow pace match is tiring; you lose your patience sometimes."
For the rest of the Indians in the fray, it turned out to be a disappointing day.
While Sourabh was sent packing by world No 1 Lee Chong Wei 21-19, 21-6 in a men's singles match, Trupti lost to Aprilla Yuswandari of Indonesia 13-21, 12-21 in just 28 minutes, and Sayali went down to fifth seed Yeon Ju Bae of Korea 21-15, 21-8 in another women's singles match to join 14 other Indians who crashed out in the singles in the opening round.
Commonwealth Games gold medallists Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa failed to cross the second round as they suffered a 13-21, 19-21 loss to fifth seeded Chinese Qing Tian and Yunlei Zhao, while Dhanya Nair and Mohita Sahdev too were blown away by top seeds Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl of Denmark 21-4, 21-9.
Image: Saina Nehwal