Rio de Janeiro: India’s dismal performance at the Rio Olympics continued on Sunday with the tennis duo of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna losing out on a medal while star shuttler Saina Nehwal, the men’s hockey team, athletes O.P. Jaisha and Kavita Raut along with shooters Gagan Narang and Chain Singh crashing out of contention.
Shuttlers Kidambi Srikanth and P.V. Sindhu though, provided some small consolation among the gloom, winning their group matches to enter the pre-quarterfinals of the men’s and women’s singles respectively.
India’s hopes of their first finish at the Rio Olympics were dashed when Sania and Bopanna lost in straight sets to Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic in the play-off for the mixed doubles bronze medal.
The Indian pair went down 1-6, 5-7 in an hour and 11 minutes at the Olympic Tennis Centre’s Court 1.
The Indians were broken in their very first service game as the Czech pair utilised their first break point to take a 2-0 lead in the first set.
Lucie-Stepanek then consolidated their position, holding their serve, to improve to 3-0 in a hard-fought game.
The Indians were totally outplayed in the first set as they found it difficult to cope up with the Czech attack, getting broken twice to surrender it 1-6.
Stepanek, a former partner of men’s doubles partner of India’s Leander Paes, was in prime form at that stage. He used all his guile and experience to control the flow of the proceedings.
Lucie-Stepanek converted two of the five break points received to pocket the first set easily in 27 minutes.
Indians needed to sort out their flaws quickly as they match was swiftly drifting away from them.
But the start of their second set was hardly ideal, as they were broken for the third time in the match to trail 0-1.
But their response to the setback was promising, breaking back immediately to square it 1-1 and then went 3-1 ahead.
But they couldn’t sustain the advantage as Lucie-Stepanek fought back to 3-3. At 4-3, Sania-Bopanna had a chance to pull ahead but failed to utilise a break point as the deadlock stretched to 4-4.
Bopanna comfortably held his service game to keep pace at 5-5 as the set headed for a tight finish.
But it was Sania’s service game that was under pressure, facing three break points during the most crucial phase of the match.
The Indians saved two break points but was ultimately broken to concede a 5-6 lead. Lucie saved for the match and claimed the contest in the first match point itself.
Sania-Bopanna had lost the semi-final clash to Americans Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram 6-2, 2-6, 3-10 on Saturday.
At the badminton courts, Saina’s defeat was a huge upset against World No.61 Marija Ulitina of Ukraine in her second match of Group G as she was eliminated, losing 18-21, 19-21 at the Rio Centro.
Ulitina, 24, effected a shock win against the World No.5 and 2012 London Games bronze medallist Saina.
The 26-year-old Indian, a top medal contender, failed to find her rhythm and looked slow as she was not moving well within the court. Saina also conceded a lot of points on misjudgement and was not able to retrieve once the shuttle moved behind her.
Saina started the first game in a dominating way building a 7-1 lead but the 24-year-old Ukrainian soon pulled up her socks levelling the game at 8-8.
Saina just edged past the mid-game interval with a two-point lead. After the interval there was a neck-to-neck fight for every point, levelling the score at 17-17 before the World No.61 took three point of trot.
Saina tried to fight back but Ulitina sealed the game 21-18 in 19 minutes at Pavillion Four of Riocentro.
In the second game, the Indian star shuttler barely managed a slender one-point lead at the mid-game interval.
The second game saw many tough shots and some thunderous body and diagonal smashes by Ulitina.
After the interval, things were equal at 15-15, 18-18 and 19-19 before the Ukrainian clinched two points and the match, ending the Indian’s hopes.
Srikanth’s performance was diametrically opposite to Saina’s.
He outplayed Henri Hurskainen of Sweden 21-6, 21-18 in his group H preliminaries encounter. The only Indian to qualify in the men’s singles event had previously beaten Lino Munoz of Mexico 2-0 in his campaign opener.
In a lop-sided first game, the Guntur-born player got off to a brilliant start as he raced away with a 11-2 lead with some solid net play and cross-court smashes before wrapping up the first game in his favour.
The second game was an example of Srikanth’s tenacity and patience. By virtue of his exceptional defensive skills, the Sweden player managed to stay in touch with the Indian.
After few exchanges till the mid-half of the second game, the Indian shuttler showed some good skills with the combination of his diagonal shot and down the line smashes to take a 18-15 lead.
There was stiff competition in the last few points, but Srikanth overpowered his opponent to clinch the issue comfortably.
Shooters Narang and Chain Singh meanwhile, failed to qualify for the final round of the men’s 50 metre Rifle event.
Chain Singh secured the 23rd position among 44 competitors, with a combined score of 1169 including 52 inner 10s at the Olympic Shooting Centre – 50 metre range.
Narang fared more poorly, managing only the 33rd spot, with an overall score of 1162, including 50 inner 10s.
Only the first eight shooters qualified for the final round.
Russian Sergey Kamenskiy set a new Olympic record to secure the top qualifying spot, with a score of 1184, including 67 inner 10s.
German Daniel Brodmeier was second with 1177, including 57 inner 10s, while Norway’s Ole Kristian Bryhn was third with a score of 1177 with 56 inner 10s.
The men’s hockey team also continued their trademark inconsistent display with a 1-3 loss to Belgium in the quarter-finals.
Striker Sebastian Dockeier struck twice for Belgium, putting paid to the Indians’ hopes of making it to the men’s hockey semi-finals at the Olympics after a long gap of 36 years.
India, who last won an Olympic medal — a gold — at the 1980 Moscow Games, faced an aggressive Belgium side that scored thrice after conceding a goal against the run of play in the 15th minute.
Akashdeep Singh deflected from a close angle but Belgium hit back as Dockier equalised in the 34th minute.
Dockier gave Belgium the lead in the 45th minute and Tom Boon scored a field goal in the 50th minute to make it 3-1 — the scoreline that remained till the end.
It was a game that saw Belgium pressed higher from the push-back, pappering Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh, who even though delivered a stunning show but it was not enough.
Both the teams went after each other aggressively and Belgium’s quick and attacking play kept the Indians guarded.
However, the Belgian midfield, led by captain John-john Dohmen proved to be the difference and they kept marching ahead to the Indian circle.
In the 10th minute, Simon Gougnard crossed for Sebastian Dockier but the latter was met with tremendous challenge and could only half-heartedly contacted the ball before it was popped out of danger.
In the final minute of the first quarter, India took the surprising lead as V.R. Raghunath drilled a long ball 25 yards out straight at the Belgium goal through the middle and Akashdeep deflected the ball on the right post. The ball touched the left leg of goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch before entering the cage.
Belgium got a chance to pull level but Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh was all alert to block a deflection from Dohmen and latter Sreejesh again denied a penalty corner from Loick Lupayert as the first 30 minutes of play ended in India’s favour.
However, Belgium hit back in the third and penultimate quarter and managed to score two goals through Dockier.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Sreejesh again came to India’s rescue as he blocked a drive from forward Thomas Briels.
Belgium made barrage of attacks and in one of them, Sebastian Dockier scored a peach of a solo goal as he dodged past at least three defenders to push the ball past Sreejesh’s outstretched right leg in the 34th minute.
As the match wore on Belgium looked more threatening and pappered Sreejesh from all angles. Penalty corner specialist Tom Boon tested Sreejesh but the Indian showed fine skills by diving to his right and deny Belgium the lead in the 44th minute.
But the European team took the lead one minute later when Cedric Charlier crossed from the left and Dockier dived forward superbly to deflect the ball in.
Belgum then further confirmed their strong position in the game when Boon scored a field goal from the top of the circle in the 50th minute.
Later, Belgium hardly gave anything away and quelled every Indian challenge to hold on to the scoreboard to enter the quarter-finals.
They will face either reigning world champions Australia or last edition’s runners-up the Netherlands in the semi-final.
In the other last eight match, Argentina saw off a stiff competition from Spain with a 2-1 victory. Set-piece specialist Gonzalo Peillat gave the South Americans the lead in the 15th minute.
Spain equalised late through Pau Quemada in the 57th minute but Juan Gilardi sealed the win for Argentina with a field goal in the 59th minute.
In athletics, India had a disappointing day in the women’s marathon on Sunday as O.P. Jaisha finished in the 89th position, while her compatriot Kavita Raut finished 120th at the Olympic Games here.
Jaisha clocked a timing of 2:47:19 hours, while Kavita clocked 2:59:29.
The event was dominated by Jemima Jelagat Sumgong of Kenya who clocked 2:24:04 to win the gold medal, followed by Bahrain’s Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa who clocked 2:24:13 and clinched the silver medal.
Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba won the bronze medal clocking 2:24:30.