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Lakshya Sen, Saina Nehwal Lose; Home Challenge Ends at India Open

Defending champion Lakshya Sen suffered a heartbreak, going down narrowly to world number 20 Rasmus Gemke of Denmark in the second round as the Indian ended at the Yonex-Sunrise India Open here on Thursday. World no. 12 Sen reduced an 8-14 deficit in the decider to 13-14 after losing the second game but couldn’t go the distance, losing 21-16 15-21 18-21 to Gemke in a match that lasted an hour and 21 minutes at the IG stadium. Reigning champions in men’s doubles, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who had come into the tournament after a semifinal finish at Malaysia Super 1000 last week, withdrew from the tournament after the former suffered a hip injury ahead of their second-round clash.

London Games bronze medallist Saina Nehwal also found the going tough against Olympic champion Chen Yufei, surrendering meekly 9-21 12-21 in just 32 minutes to draw curtains on India’s campaign at the Super 750 tournament.

Earlier, Commonwealth Games bronze medallists Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly lost 9-21 16-21 to sixth-seeded Chinese Zhang Shu Xian and Zheng Yu in women’s doubles pre-quarterfinals.

The rising men’s doubles pair of Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala also was no match for China’s Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang, going down 14-21 10-21 in 33 minutes.

Sen was favourite to win the match, having won the last two encounters against Gemke but the Indian couldn’t find his ‘A’ game when it mattered as the Dane showed better alertness and control to come up trumps.

The match started on an even knell with the two engaging in long rallies. Both played high tosses and clears, and waited to put away weak returns.

Sen produced some sensational smashes and soft taps at the net to zoom ahead at 17-12 after the two were locked 9-9 at one stage.

A cross-court smash and a drop gave Sen six game points. He converted on the third opportunity to earn the bragging rights.

However, Sen was a touch off in his precision after the change of sides, allowing his opponent to open up a slender 7-5 lead. Gemke slowed down the game and soon the Indian was left to do the catch-up job. Gemke maintained his two-point advantage at the break before moving to 14-10 after winning a controversial point. Sen’s shot missed the backline but the Indian protested as he felt it had touched his opponent’s hand while landing outside.

Soon it turned 16-10 as Sen looked a bit dazed.

Thereafter, Sen sprayed the net twice before producing two precise cross-court returns. But he missed the line again as Gemke held six-game point and converted when the Indian went wide again.

Sen had a poor start in the decider as his unforced errors allowed Gemke to open up an 8-1 lead.

The Indian then sent one looping over his rival’s head and another one away at the forehand corner, much to the cheers of the crowd to recover to 6-8.

His backhand blocks and forehand low returns reaped dividends but an alert Gemke managed to grab a four-point cushion at the interval.

On resumption, Sen again committed two silly errors as Gemke led 14-8 after unleashing a precise smash.

Sen brought out his trademark hop smashes to put pressure on Gemke, who sprayed wide and at net as the Indian made it 13-14. The Indian kept fighting, producing another sensational shot before losing a long rally as Gemke led 18-15.

Two precise smashes from Sen on his rival’s forehand kept him in the hunt but he served out and then smashed one out as Gemke grabbed two match points and converted it when the Indian erred again.

“It is a disappointing start in the decider, going 1-8 down is not acceptable. I played well to cover up the game but it was not enough in the end. I think few decisions here and there and I could have played more bravely in the end but a silly error in the end,” a disappointed Sen said.

“It is hard to take, I was this close. I am feeling really bad about the last point. I was trying something new because my strategy was not working but I should have played with more patience.

“I wasn’t not getting the rhythm in the third game. He was playing better length in the second and third games, so I was not able to finish the shuttle faster. The lead helped him to play flashy in a few points. As I was under pressure, my rally game was not patient enough.” Gemke will now take on top seed and compatriot Viktor Axelsen, who outwitted China’s Shi Yu Qi 21-16 16-21 21-9.

Also advancing to the next round were fourth seed Jonatan Christie of Indonesia, third seed Loh Kean Yew of Singapore and fifth seed Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei in men’s singles.

Top seed Akane Yamaguchi of Japan, Spaniard Carolina Marin and He Bingjiao of China also made it to the quarters in women’s singles.

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