On a day when PV Sindhu and Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa bowed out, Saina Nehwal assured India a medal from the prestigious World Championships with a stunning performance at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta. The World No. 2 held her nerves and displayed her power smashes superbly in a tense third game to outlast former world champion Wang Yihan 21-15, 19-21, 21-19, thereby progressing into the semis.
This is the first World Championships medal for Saina. She had never made it to the last-four stage in her five previous quarter-final appearances.
Saina Nehwal wins a thriller
On Friday, Saina Nehwal came prepared against an opponent who had troubled her throughout her career. Yihan held an intimidating 9-2 head-to-head record over the Indian but most importantly, had lost their last encounter at the elite All England Championships this year.
And Saina used that confidence to take on the Chinese in Jakarta.
With better anticipation and all-court prowess, Saina kept Yihan at bay even though the Chinese sixth seed had begun the first game with a 7-4 lead. She went into the mid-game interval with a slender 11-10 advantage.
Using long rallies to test Yihan’s endurance, Saina smartly soared to a 19-15 lead and then wrapped up the opening game 21-15.
In a topsy-turvy second game, it was the determined Yihan who raced to 4-1 first. But she also fell prey to a couple of unforced errors and an aggressive Nehwal used this opportunity to build an 11-8 advantage.
However, the former top-ranked Chinese refused to bow out without a fight. She immediately equalled the score at 13-13 and then surged to 17-13 with a brilliant array of crosscourt shots.
Saina closed in to 19-20 but Wang used her experience to slam shut the second game 20-19.
Wang opened up a 6-3 lead in the decider. But Saina used her tactics well to place her shots on the left side of the court and showed a lot of sharpness and instinct at the net to tie the score at 10-10.
Saina was the one doing the catch-up every time as the duo was locked in a nail-biting battle in the third game. The second seed levelled at 18-18.
Saina’s superb body smashes then came to the rescue and she earned two points to make the score 20-19 in her favour. As Yihan hit the shuttle wide, Saina booked her semi-final berth and assured India of at least a bronze.
Next up: Fanetri
Saina Nehwal will next face local star Lindaweni Fanetri. The Indian holds a 2-1 head-to-head record over the Indonesian World No. 29.
Tough luck for Sindhu and Gutta-Ponnappa
Earlier in the day, two-time bronze medal winner PV Sindhu fought brilliantly in her quarter-final match against Sung Ji Hyun. But the eighth-seeded Korean‘s relentless defense helped her beat the Indian 21-17, 19-21, 21-16.
In women’s doubles quarter-finals, 2011 bronze medallists Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa went down 23-25, 14-21 to the unseeded Japanese team of Naoko Fukuman and Kurumi Yonao to bring an end to a very promising performance.
So, Saina is the last Indian standing. Her belief, fitness and superb smashing hopefully should be enough to book a place in the final.