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Saturday,24-July-2021

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Olympic countdown: Sania Mirza striving for an Olympic medal

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Sania Mirza’s cabinet of trophies is very glittering. As a doubles specialist, Sania has won the women’s doubles title in Wimbledon and US Open in 2015 followed by the Australian Open in 2016. In mixed doubles, her record is equally good. 2009 Wimbledon, 2012 French Open and 2014 US Open. Add to it consecutive WTA Finals in 2014 and 2015.

Sania also has bronze in women’s doubles at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2014 Asian Games. In mixed doubles, she won gold in the 2006 and 2014 Asian Games along with silver in the 2010 Asian Games.

But there is one big missing piece from her trophy cabinet, which the 34-year-old aims to lay her hands on at Tokyo: a medal at the Olympics.

Sania almost had the medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics. She was only a few points away from being assured of a medal. But she and Rohan Bopanna lost the mixed doubles semifinals 6-2, 2-6, 3-10 to the American pair of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram. In the bronze-medal match, Sania and Bopanna went down 1-6, 5-7 to Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic. So close, yet so far from it.

The journey from Rio to Tokyo has been roller-coaster for Sania. A knee injury in 2017 extended into a maternity break. In late 2018, Sania announced her intention to make a comeback into the professional circuit. She returned on the tour at Hobart International in January 2020. Alongside Nadiia Kichenok, Sania won her first tournament on return, beating second seeds Peng Shuai/Zhang Shuai in the final. She had to withdraw in the first round of the Australian Open due to a calf injury.

In the run-up to the Olympics, Sania took part in six tournaments. In between, lockdown caused by the pandemic forced her to bide time. Her best performance in 2021 came in a semifinal finish at WTA Total Qatar Open in March, two months after recovering from COVID-19. Recently, Sania played in the Viking International and Wimbledon, losing in the round of 16 and 32, respectively.

With her protected ranking of nine, Sania had gained direct entry into the women’s doubles event at the Tokyo Olympics.

In Tokyo, she will be partnering Ankita Raina, who has been soaring high in doubles this year.

Breaking into the top-100 rankings, grand slam debuts and a WTA singles title, Ankita is the highest-ranked partner Sania has ever had in women’s doubles at the Olympics. Ankita and Sania have played together in Fed Cup twice, ending on the winning side.

With Ankita as her partner, Sania can expect to complete an unfinished business: adding an Olympics medal to her trophy cabinet.

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Olympics: Saurabh Chaudhary flatters to deceive, finishes 7th in 10m air pistol

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There was heartbreak for Indian 10m air pistol shooter Saurabh Chaudhary , who despite emerging on top in the qualification round earlier on Saturday, finished seventh as the country suffered its biggest setback in the shooting arena on Saturday.

The 19-year-old Chaudhary, who had given enough indication that he was in great form to finish on the podium when he shot 586 to go into the finals as the leader, was the second shooter to be eliminated from among the eight finalists, finishing seventh.

Chaudhary got things rolling with a 10.1 in the finals, but he finished at the bottom of the pile after the first five shots with a score of 47.7. After 10 shots, the Meerut-born marksman had moved to seventh and was only 0.3 points behind sixth-placed Christian Reitz of Germany.

Tied at 107.0 after the first elimination shot, Chaudhary managed to stay on with 117.2 points, even as South Korea’s Korea’s Kim Mose was the first to get eliminated (115.8 points).

Before the next shot, China’s Zhang Bowen had a 0.3 point deficit, but walking into the deciding shot Saurabh registered a poor 9.6 to Zhang’s 10.2 and became the second marksman in the finals to get eliminated.

Earlier, the Indian ace had come up with superb marksmanship, topping the qualification round.

The Meerut boy shot 586 to be tied with Chinese Bowen Zhang after qualification, but as the Indian had more ‘inner 10s’ (27) to his name, he took the first spot going into the finals.

The other Indian in the fray, Abhishek Verma, was in the reckoning for a place in the finals. But he shot two 9s followed by two 8s in his last four shots, which meant that he finished 17th with a score of 575.

The 19-year-old Chaudhary started off with five shots of 10, leading the competition early. But it was followed by five shots of nine to end the first series with 95. In the second and third series, he had scores of 98 each.

The fourth series was stellar for him, getting perfect 10s in all the ten shots.

Chaudhary had 43 shots of 10s till shooting a nine on the second-last shot of the fifth series, ending with 98. In the final series, he started off with six 10s followed by three 9s and ending with a 10.

The 31-year-old Verma had an iffy start with 94 in the first series. He was able to overcome it by shooting 96 and 98 in the second and third series respectively. A 97 in the fourth series and 98 in five propelled him to reach inside the top-eight.

Verma looked set to join Chaudhary in the finals till the final series, but the meltdown in the final four shots caused the former’s downfall.

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Olympics: Sumit Nagal beats Istomin to record India’s first tennis singles win since 1996

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Sumit-Nagal

India’s lone hope in men’s tennis singles Sumit Nagal powered to a 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-4 win over Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in the first round here at the Ariake Tennis Court on Saturday.

Nagal’s win was the first for an Indian men’s singles tennis player at the Olympics since Leander Paes’ bronze medal-winning run at Atlanta 1996.

Nagal won the first set 6-4 in 42 minutes but lost the second set in tie-breaker in 71 minutes. He, however, came back to win the final set in 41 minutes with a 6-4 margin.

The 34-year-old Istomin, ranked 197th in the world was no match to his 23-year-old Indian opponent who is ranked 37 places above him.

Nagal was more agile and covered the court better.

Istomin fired 17 aces against eight by Nagal. The Indian also committed more double faults with nine against three.

However, it was in break-points and forced errors that Nagal was better than his Uzbek opponent.

Istomin committed 32 forced errors to Nagal’s 17. The Indian also won 10 out of 10 net points while his opponent won just five out of nine.

Nagal managed to convert four out of the five break-points he got – 80% conversion — while Istomin could convert only two out of the 14 he had got – 14% conversion.

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Olympics table tennis: Manika Batra through to second round

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Indian paddler Manika Batra made it to the second round of women’s singles table tennis at the Tokyo Olympics with a straight-sets win over Great Britain’s Tin-Tin Ho at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Following the 4-0 win, Manika will now face Ukraine’s 20th seed Margaryta Pesotska.

Manika had a slow start against Tin-Tin, ranked 94th in the world. But she found her rhythm quickly to take the first game 11-7. Manika had a smooth run for a 2-0 lead by winning the second game 11-6.

After trailing the paddler from Great Britain for much of the third game, Manika crossed the finish line with 12-10 for a 3-0 lead. She sealed the match with 11-9 in the fourth game.

It was an easy win for Batra, who had earlier made an exit from the round of 16 in the mixed doubles event pairing Sharath Kamal. The duo lost in straight sets 11-8, 11-6, 11-5, 11-4 to Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yu-Ju and Cheng I-Cheng after leading 5-1 and 5-3 in the first two games.

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