HYDERABAD: “Won a tough match against Bae Yeon Ju from South Korea 15-21, 21-7, 21-17. Big match.” Saina Nehwal tweeted after a hard-fought battle against the left-handed Korean to record her third successive win in Group A of the badminton Super Series Masters Finals in Dubai on Friday.
However, second seed Jan O Jorgensen stopped Kidambi Srikanth’s fine run. The Dane eked out a 17-21, 21-18, 21-14 win over the Indian. Both of them, however, qualified to the last four stages from the men’s Group B with identical 2-1 records.
World No 4 Saina, who beat Wang Shixian (China) and Sung Ji Hyun (South Korea) in straight games in her first two matches, stormed into the semifinals with an all-win record in the four-team group. This was the fourth time that she made the semifinals. She was finalist once in 2011.
Coach Vimal Kumar felt it was a close match. “But Saina was tactically better than Bae,” he said.
The Korean, ranked eighth in the world, had Saina in trouble in the first game. Bae had a bagful of tricks against Saina and there was flurry of strokes that put Saina on the back foot. The Korean then wrapped up the first game.
According to Vimal, Bae got used to Saina’s pace and catching her on the wrong side. “I told Saina to vary the pace,” he revealed. Changing her tactics, Saina turned a corner in the second game. She was aware that if she won the second game, it was enough for a semifinal berth in the event of a loss to Bae.
Saina judiciously mixed her strokes to dominate the second game. She did not allow Bae near the net and pushed her back. She played a belligerent game to take a 6-2 lead before the Korean made a fight back of sorts, taking a 6-7 lead. After that, Saina surged into a massive 15-6 lead.
The Indian then hit a purple patch as she won nine points in a row. Although the Korean won one more point, Saina clinched the second game at 21-7.
At the start of the third game, Kumar advised Saina to be alert from the start. Saina had to ensure that she did not lose the momentum. But Bae had the upperhand in the early stages of the game, taking a 7-3 lead.