The lack of quality doubles players came back to haunt Indian badminton team as they suffered a 2-3 loss to Malaysia in their opening tie of the prestigious Sudirman Cup on Monday at Dongguan (China).
Saina Nehwal and women's doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa won their respective matches but K Srikanth failed to breach the defence of Lee Chong Wei. The men's and mixed doubles pairs also bit the dust as India began their campaign on a losing note. Saina brought India back in the contest with a narrow 24-22 21-13 win over world number 56 Tee Jing Yi.
India, who reached the knockout stage of the biennial tournament in 2011 edition, will next take on three-time champions Korea on Wednesday. Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy B started the proceedings for India but their fight ended with a 15-21 16-21 loss to Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong as Malaysia drew first blood.
Olympic bronze medallist Saina then brought India back in the contest with a narrow 24-22 21-13 win over world number 56 Tee Jing Yi in a 44-minute women's singles match.
The men's singles contest between world number four Srikanth and two-time Olympic silver medallist Lee, who is playing his first tournament after serving a backdated eight month ban for doping, was expected to be a mouth-watering affair but it ended with the former world number one notching up a 21-16 21-15 win to hand over the lead to Malaysia once again.
Commonwealth Games silver medallists Jwala and Ashwini the took the court and the duo avenged their Glasgow final loss to Vivian Kah Mun Hoo and Woon Khe Wei with a hard-fought 21-18 19-21 21-15 win over the world number 11 pair.
However, in the decider, N Sikki Reddy and Arun Vishnu could not get it across the world number 70 pair of Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying and went down 14-21 18-21 in a 40-minute match as India went down 2-3 in the end.
In the women's singles match, Saina seemed to take her own time to get into the groove as she led 12-9 at one stage. But Tee soon clawed her way back and managed to lead 16-15 after the Indian exhausted a video referral.
Tee then turned the tables to not only lead 19-17 but also moved into game point thrice at 20-19, 21-10 and 22-21. However, Saina saved the game point each time and with the help of a cross court dribble and a body smash moved to 23-22 before grabbing the game when Tee hit the net.
In the second game, Saina pulled up her socks as she looked sharper and it reflected on the scoreline as she led 11-5 at the break. Tee tried her best but she could not break the Indian, who wrapped up the match when Tee hit wide. In the men's singles match, Srikanth showed good fighting spirit but he failed to deal with the drift in the court and made too many unforced errors to see the match slip out of his hands.
Lee, on the other hand, shunned all extravagance, did not make too many errors, and played within himself to tame the Indian. Initially, Srikanth gave Lee a good fight as he retrieved everything thrown at him and also judged the shuttle well to move into a 8-7 lead.
Lee showed glimpses of his past self but despite making few errors, held the psychological edge at 11-10 going into the break. He maintained his dominance with a 16-11 lead but Srikanth narrowed it down to 13-16. After some exceptional rallies by the players, Srikanth came as close as 16-17. The Indian tried a couple of body smashes but both went long as Lee clinched the opening game without much ado.
The Olympic medallist's smooth movement helped him to play with ease as he defended well even as Srikanth in desperation kept hitting wide and long to allow the Malaysian lead 8-3 in the second game. Srikanth did not give up and brought the lead down to 7-8. But, Lee once again distanced himself to lead 11-7 at the break.
At 10-13, Srikanth played a back hand flick from an awkward position to give some cheers to the Indian fans but a series of errors from him not only allowed Lee to take a 17-11 lead but also to grab the match point at 20-14.
The Indian saved one before hitting long once again as Lee handed Malaysia a 2-1 lead after the third match. Jwala and Ashwini, who had lost to the same rivals during the finals of Glasgow Commonwealth Games, then took the court and straight away put pressure on the Malaysians, engaging in some fast rallies.
Jwala was good at the nets while Ashwini manned the back court well, troubling the opponents with her hard smashes as they combined well to lead 12-10 at one stage. Woon and Hoo kept breathing down their neck but eventually the Indian combo grabbed the first game when the Malaysians hit long.
The second game was yet another rollercoaster ride as Jwala and Ashwini led 11-10 at the break. However, after the interval, Woon and Hoo grabbed the lead at 15-13. The Indian pair reeled off four straight points to make it 17-15 but they committed a few errors at this crucial juncture to see Woon and Hoo roar back into the match.
In the decider, Jwala and Ashwini fought back from 2-6 down to eke out a slender 11-10 lead at the interval. The Indian combo led 15-12 but Woon and Hoo drew level with three straight points. At 18-15, Jwala won a point on serve and then produced two superb smashes to win the fourth match.