Austrian Open: Malvika Bansod gives big scare to top seed Clara Azurmendi 

Nagpur native Malvika Bansod put up a tough fight against her more-experienced opponent at the Austrian Open
Nagpur native Malvika Bansod put up a tough fight against her more-experienced opponent at the Austrian Open
Suhas Nayse

Teenage sensation Malvika Bansod gave a big scare to top seed Clara Azurmendi before going down fighting in the Austrian Open on Saturday, May 29.

In a late evening women’s singles quarter-final encounter, Bansod stretched the world No. 71 but just couldn't deliver the knock-out punch. The Spaniard edged past the unseeded Malvika Bansod 21-17, 15-21, 21-19 when the dust settled.

Bansod was just a couple of points away from registering perhaps the biggest victory of her career when the shuttlers were tied 19-19 in the third and deciding game. However, the southpaw could not hold her nerves against her higher-ranked and more experienced opponent.

In a match that lasted for 47 minutes, Clara won the opening game 21-17.

Bansod bounced back to level the score at 1-1 with an outstanding performance in the second game. The world No. 139 delivered brilliant smashes and controlled net play to surprise her six-foot-tall opponent. The Indian looked on course to upset the top seed.

While the Nagpur native maintained her excellent showing in the decider too, her best was not enough against the experienced campaigner. Malvika Bansod matched her opponent fiercely and there was hardly anything to separate the two in the deciding game.

Earlier in the day, the Indian had shocked seventh seed Léonice Huet of France in straight games.

In the pre-quarterfinals, Bansod made light work of the world No. 79 with an impressive score of 21-7, 21-15 in just 30 minutes. The French opponent had no answer to Malvika Bansod’s clinical display of power and accuracy.

And in the first round on Friday, Malvika Bansod outclassed yet another higher-ranked opponent in Czech Republic’s Tereza Švábíková 21-13, 21-15 in 29 minutes. She dominated from the word go and did not leave an opening for the world No. 131.

Despite the narrow loss, Malvika Bansod pleased with her performance

Although Malvika Bansod lost in the quarters quite narrowly, she was satisfied with her efforts.

“My performance in the second round against Leonice Huet of France was a very memorable one for two reasons. Firstly because she was the seventh seed in the tournament and secondly because she had recently performed very well in the Spanish Super 300 tournament last week and had stormed into the semi-finals there. I played very well against her and won in straight games,” said Malvika Bansod, who is supported by Vishvaraj Infrastructure Ltd.

The winner of three BWF international titles, Malvika Bansod, was pleased to stretch the top seed in the quarter-finals.

“My quarter-final was again a very good match for me. I displayed a strong performance against Clara Azurmendi from Spain as she was the top seed of the draw. She is currently world number 70. I fought very hard but had hard luck in the end. But overall I got to learn a lot from the tournament,” added Malvika.

The other two Indians in the fray, Mugdha Agrey and Anjana Kumari, failed to cross the first-round hurdles.

Josefine Redkjær Jensen of Denmark upset third seed Mugdha Agrey 21-16, 21-18 in 28 minutes. Agrey, who is world No. 93, was stunned by qualifier Josefine, who is ranked much below (317).

Local girl Katrin Neudolt rallied back to defeat India’s Anjana Kumari 16-21, 21-12, 21-11. The world No. 269 overcame her rusty start to down Kumari, who is ranked 209 in the world, in the women’s singles first round.

Malvika Bansod shared her experiences of competing amid the raging pandemic and strict travel restrictions.

“My experience in the Austrian International Series was a very unique one and it was a very good learning lesson for me. I have a lot to take back from this tour as I was traveling to Austria from India when the entire world is facing a difficult situation. I had to undergo a mandatory six-day quarantine period in the hotel room, which meant I could not move out of the room for almost a week,” said Malvika Bansod.

Keeping fitness levels high was a big challenge during that period for the 19-year-old.

“I had to maintain my fitness by working out in the hotel room itself. So I had to innovate a lot in the exercises. My coach Sanjay Mishra Sir helped me and guided me a lot in maintaining a proper energy level,” said Malvika Bansod, who has been training under chief junior national coach Sanjay Mishra at Raipur for the last couple of years.
Edited by Sandeep Banerjee
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