Saina in maiden Worlds semis, assured of bronze

Jakarta, Aug 14 (IANS) It took Indian badminton ace Saina Nehwal seven years and six attempts to finally enter her maiden singles semi-finals to assure herself of at least a bronze medal at the World Championships here on Friday.

In a marathon match that lasted an hour and 12 minutes at the 9,000-seater Istora Senayan, World No.2 Saina came out with a sensational performance to oust former World Champion Yihan Wang of China 21-15, 19-21, 21-19 and advance to the last four stage.

Losing semi-finalists at Worlds are assured of a bronze while the finalists fight for the gold.

Expectations were also high from P.V. Sindhu and the doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, all three being previous Worlds bronze medallists, but they faltered at the quarter-finals earlier in the day.

Coming back to Saina, this was the second seed’s only third win out of 12 meetings against the former World No.1 and also her second consecutive victory after also trumping the Chinese at the All England Open in March.

Saina will now take on local girl Lindaweni Fanetri for a place in the summit clash, against whom the Olympic bronze medallist has a 2-1 advantage in career meetings.

The 25-year-old Indian has been having a go at the Worlds since 2009 but each time she faltered in the quarter-finals.

In the last match of the day, World No.6 Yihan took off aggressively, reaching the net and trying to smash everything at Saina. But the Hyderabadi upped the ante to bring out her regal form, level the game at the 11-point mark and then took a lead which she kept increasing.

Some brilliant deceptive shots made sure the Hisar-born clinched the first game with ease as Yihan was not able to keep pace with the Indian.

Saina took the momentum into the second game where she raced away to a 13-9 lead. But Yihan suddenly found her legs to clinch the next eight points and take a 17-13 advantage.

Yihan reached gamepoint at 20-17. Saina saved two gamepoints but could not manage to save the third as Yihan pushed the match into the decider on her third attempt.

Though Saina trailed the sixth seed throughout the third game, she made sure her score stayed close to Yihan. The second seed fought extremely hard to finally level at 18-point mark and then took the lead at 19-18.

Yihan, by now, looked fatigued while Saina appeared more positive which showed in the next couple of minutes as the latter clinched two more points to create history in the Indonesian capital.

Earlier, it was a case of so near and yet so far for Sindhu and the duo of Jwala and Ashwini as they suffered quarter-final defeats to miss out on the Worlds medals.

Double World Championships bronze medallist Sindhu was eying a hat-trick in the prestigious tournament. But a three-game loss in an hour and 22 minutes to South Korean eighth seed Sung Ji Hyun dashed any hopes of Sindhu winning a women’s singles medal for the third consecutive year.

Hopes were high from the 20-year-old after she ousted reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui of China on Thursday but those expectations they fell flat as the Hyderabadi lost 17-21, 21-19, 16-21, her second consecutive defeat to Sung in five career meetings.

In the first match of the day, women’s doubles 13th seeds Jwala and Ashwini were looking to repeat their 2011 Worlds performance when they clinched the bronze, but several errors against the unseeded Japanese combine of Naoko Fukuman and Kurumi Yonaoat cost them the match.

In the end, the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallists lost 23-25, 14-21 in 46 minutes. This was the first match between the two pairs.

Indians have won only four bronze medals at the Worlds till date. Prakash Padukone became the first Indian to win the metal in 1983 in men’s singles. India had to wait for another 28 years when Jwala and Ashwini clinched the bronze in 2011.

Since then, Sindhu won two back-to-back bronzes in 2013 and 2014.

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