The men’s hockey team and army rower Dattu Baban Bhokanal provided the few bright spots while tennis ace Leander Paes made an early exit on a largely disappointing opening day at the Rio Olympics on day 1.
The men’s hockey team broke a 12-year-old Olympics jinx by winning their opening group league encounter against minnows Ireland, while Bhokanal entered the quarterfinals by finishing third in his heat in men’s singles sculls rowing competition.
Those were the only bright spots as the Indian contingent faced reversals in the shooting range, tennis court, table tennis and weightlifting arena on Saturday.
On the tennis court, Paes’ dream of winning his second Olympics medal — after a bronze in 1996 Atlanta — in his record seventh appearance was blown away when he and his doubles partner Rohan Bopanna were knocked out in straight sets in the opening round by the Polish pair of Marcin Matkowski and Lukasz Kubot. The Indians lost 4-6 6-7 (6-8).
An emotional Paes did not hide his disappointment and said that he had “become a soft target” and that was the reason why people are “taking potshots” at him.
Later, star woman player Sania Mirza, the world number one in doubles, too could not lift the Indian contingent’s sagging spirits as she and much lower ranked partner Prarthana Thombare went down to the Chinese pair of Shuai Zhang and Shuai Peng.
Zhang and Peng won a closely contested match 7-6 (8-6) 5-7 7-5 that lasted two hours and 44 minutes as the Indian duo did put up a stiff resistance.
Indian shooters also failed to sparkle as medal hopeful Jitu Rai finished a lowly eighth in the men’s 10m Air Pistol final, while Apurvi Chandela and Ayonika Paul crashed out in the qualification round of their respective events itself.
Army’s Jitu, bronze medallist at Incheon Asian Games in the event in 2014, shot an overall 78.7 to finish eighth in the field of eight finalists to become the first shooter to crash out of the final round.
The 28-year-old Jitu got off to a poor start and could not recover from it in a highly competitive line-up, which included the likes of Hoang Xuan Vinh, Pang Wei, Wu Felipe Almeida, Tuzinsky Juraj, Jin Jongoh, Gontcharov Vladimira and Giordona Giuseppe.
However, Gurpreet Singh, India’s other participant in the same category, failed to even make the final.