When you are world No. 15, you are not termed a favourite, but you are no pushover either. Certainly not when you have hit a purple patch. Saina Nehwal's maiden voyage into the world of Olympics has been quite memorable so far. The 18-year-old shuttler beat Larysa Gryga (Ukraine) 21-18, 21-10 in 28 minutes to storm into the Round of 16 in the women's badminton here on Sunday.
Saina and later Anup Sridhar's victory brought the smiles back on the Indians after a disastrous morning in the outdoors.
As the shooters and archers were making a quiet exit, Saina went about her chores like a true professional at the Beijing University of Technology Gymnasium. Sometimes smashing, sometimes placing on both sides of the court and sometimes playing at the net, she managed to outsmart and outwit her opponent comfortably.
If the first two matches had been relatively easy, her real challenge awaits in the next round when she meets Chen Wang of Hong Kong, ranked No 5 and seeded fourth, on Monday.
It may be tough but Saina has vowed not to give away easy points. "I know it's going to be tough. But that doesn't unsettle me," Saina said after her victory.
Brimming with confidence she added: "I don't know about the outcome, but one thing is clear I will give my 100 per cent to win.
"No matter who I meet, from now on, I will treat each and every match as a final. My rhythm is good and the movement is fine. My timing has been perfect. All that I need to do now is carry on with the momentum," she said. "You hardly see so many people cheering badminton players ? the atmosphere is electric," she said, with childish exuberance.
If Saina is playing at her best, Sridhar looked a little rusty. Maybe a little nervous too in his first Olympics. But towards the end he settled into a nice rhythm during his victory against Marco Vasconcelos of Portugal 21-16, 21-14 later in the evening.
Strapped in knee-high crepe support, Sridhar refrained from smashing. Concentrating more on drop shots and net play, he beat the Portuguese in less than half-an-hour.
After a world career-high ranking of No 24 in March, an ankle injury forced him to stay away for a while. "It's good to be playing after a long time," said Sridhar. "I was tentative but that happens if you don't play too many matches for a long time."
About his injury, Sridhar said: "The ankle seemed fine and I really have to thank Dr Kannan and the Mittal Trust's South African physio Heath Mathews. They have helped in my recovery."
He plays Shato Soji of Japan, against whom he has a better head-to-head record. "I have played him earlier and I have won more matches against him. I hope to keep that record intact," he said.