Badminton: PV Sindhu to face Blichfeldt in last 16; Praneeth out in group stage

PV Sindhu makes a shot en-route beating Cheung Ngan Yi in straight games. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Reigning World Champion PV Sindhu advanced to the pre-quarterfinals of the badminton women's singles event at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday.

The 26-year-old Indian, who won silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics, beat World No. 34 Cheung Ngan Yi of Hong Kong 21-9, 21-16 in a 35-minute match to top Group J. This was Sindhu's sixth win over Cheung in as many meetings.

World No. 7 Sindhu, will meet Denmark's World No. 12 Mia Blichfeldt, who topped Group I. Sindhu has a 4-1 head-to-head record against Blichfeldt, whose only win against the Indian was at the Yonex Thailand Open earlier this year.

B Sai Praneeth failed to win a single match in his maiden Olympics after losing 14-21, 14-21 to Netherlands' Mark Caljouw. This is Praneeth's second successive loss against a lower-ranked opponent in Tokyo. He finished bottom of the three-man group and failed to progress to the last 16.

Seeded sixth, Sindhu had defeated Ksenia Polikarpova of Israel in her opening match.

Sindhu used her repertoire of strokes and her ability to vary the pace to work the Hong Kong player around the court before taking advantage of the open spaces that popped up by stepping up the aggression on her smashes and forehands. Cheung got a few points with her deceptive crosscourt returns but her unforced errors prevented her from having a chance to put pressure on the Indian.

"I found my rhythm from the second game on and I finished it off. It was a fast game and I made a couple of unforced errors. I changed my tactics and got things under control. This type of test is important before a big match," the 26-year-old Indian said after the match.

"It's not going to be an easy game. I need to recover well and come back stronger. I've played her a couple of times, every point is going to be important. She's an aggressive player so I need to be aggressive as well," Sindhu said.

Sindhu led 6-2 early on before charging ahead to 10-3. She committed a rare error before entering the interval at 11-5. The Indian didn't have any trouble after resumption as she used the momentum to go ahead 20-9 and pocketed the opening game when Cheung netted a return.

The second game was a far more competitive affair. Cheung extended the rallies and with Sindhu too struggling to control the shuttle, Cheung came back early on to make it 6-6 and then 8-8. Sindhu made a few judgement errors and sent the shuttle wide to make it 11-10 for Cheung at the break.

Cheung kept up the pressure on Sindhu until 14-14, after which the Indian again stepped up the aggression, hitting a few smashes down the line to go ahead 17-14.

Sindhu quickly made it six match points at 20-14. She missed the first two before sealing victory with a more patient point that ended with a smash at the net.

In the men's singles match, Praneeth opened up a 8-5 lead initially but Caljouw caught up to lead 11-9 at the break. The Dutch player continued to maintain his stranglehold on the Indian to eventually pocket the first game.

Praneeth looked more aggressive in his approach in the second game and zoomed to a 6-0 lead early on. But Caljouw once again worked his way back into the game to lead 10-8 after Praneeth erred twice. He held a three-point advantage when the Indian shot long.

Praneeth was inconsistent and erratic and didn't have answers to his opponent's precise returns. "I was not confident enough. I was trying everything but there was no confidence in my strokes. I came on the court to win but unfortunately it was not a good performance for me. I started well in the second and then lost the points," Praneeth said.

On Tuesday, the Indian men's doubles team of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy couldn't qualify for the quarterfinals despite winning two matches in their group.

The Indian duo had emerged victorious against the England pair of Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in their final Group A match but missed out on the knockouts as the three teams ended with the same points and games difference was considered to identify the qualifiers. The Indians had lost in straight games to Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, which ended up costing them.