DUBAI: Badminton ace Saina Nehwal topped her group to march into the women's singles semifinals while Kidambi Srikanth reached the last four stage despite losing his last men's singles round robin match at the BWF World Super Series Finals here today.
World No.4 Saina clinched a pulsating three-game thriller against Bae Yeon Ju of Korea 15-21 21-7 21-17. Later in the day, World No.6 Srikanth gave third-ranked Jan O Jorgensen a hard time before going down 21-17 12-21 14-21.
However, both advanced to the knock-out stage. Jorgensen of Denmark finished first in Group B and Srikanth second. The fight for the two spots was tough with Jorgensen, Srikanth and Japan's Kento Momota winning two out of their three matches.
Saina, a 2011 finalist at the prestigious event, qualified for the semis from Group A, ahead of South Korea's Ji Hyun Sung. The Indian played extremely well to win all three matches in a tough pool.
In today's match, she bounced back from a game down to beat eighth-ranked Bae. It was a contest between two similar players, both of whom believe in grinding it out in the court and the match begun as expected with long rallies consisting of sharp angled drops and smashes.
Saina brought a sort of new-found aggression in her game as she didn't shy away from attacking the nets and tried to dictate the rallies, pushing Bae to commit errors. The Indian girl's game plan worked and she took a 10-4 lead.
The Korean grabbed two points at the nets and followed it up with a brilliant drop to narrow the gap. But soon Saina's deceiving return found Bae napping and she led 11-8 at the break.
After the breather, Bae tightened her defence and dug deep in the rallies. She pushed the Indian to make mistakes, to not only claw back at 14-14 but also win the game when Saina hit wide.
In the second game, Saina once again led 6-2 early on. She cut down on her smashes and tried to look for easy points. Bae, meanwhile, played some exceptional shots to narrow it down to 6-6, but the Korean also committed few unforced errors to allow the Indian reel off five straight points and lead 11-6 at the interval.
Leading 12-6, the duo got engaged in a gruelling rally, consisting of 32 shots and Saina had the last laugh. She continued her dominance after the break, playing patiently to rush back into contest, bagging 15 of the last 16 points.
In the decider, Bae surged ahead to a lead of 5-1. Saina brought out her power smash to break the streak and then finished a long rally with a low lift at the net. Both the players tried to outdo each other but the Korean entered the interval with a slender 11-10 lead.
In a battle of attrition, Saina managed to open up a narrow lead of 15-13, courtesy her never say die attitude and brilliant net play. The Korean hit one wide and Saina then grabbed another point to lead 17-13. The Korean made it 16-19.
Saina, however, didn't delay the inevitable further as she produced two smashes to shut the door on the Korean.