FUZHOU: Defending champion Saina Nehwal is just one step away from retaining her women's singles title at the USD 700,000 China Open Super Series Premier.
The Olympic bronze medallist today sealed the final spot after notching up a 21-13 21-18 win over China's Yihan Wang, a 2011 World Champion and 2012 London Olympics silver medallist, in the semifinals.
Up against one of her toughest rivals, who has beaten her nine times, Saina showed her prowess as he fought back from 2-4 down in the opening game and prevailed in a gruelling battle in the second to outclass Wang.
The top seeded Indian will next take on Olympic champion Li Xuerui of China, an opponent against whom she has lost nine times and the only wins coming during the 2012 Indonesia Open and Singapore Open Super Series in 2010.
In the first game, Saina took time to get off the mark as Wang surged to a 2-0 lead early on. The Chinese led 5-3 before Saina reeled off six straight points to zoom ahead to a 9-5 lead and held a 11-7 advantage at the break.
After the interval, Wang caught up at 11-11 but Saina changed gears, and a seven-point burst from 14-13 helped her to pocket the opening game.
The second game turned out to be a thriller as lead exchanged hands too frequently. Saina lead 9-6 at one stage and even though Wang clawed back at 10-10, the Indian wrested a slender 13-11 lead soon.
What ensued next is a tough fight for each points as they moved neck and neck before Saina marched ahead to seal the issue in her favour.
"It's amazing to be in the final. Beating Wang Yihan in the semi-finals is a big achievement as she's been playing well. It was a good match today. I think overall I have been playing well, I've been getting better as the tournament progressed," Saina said after the match.
"There's a lot of difference in the way I'm playing now. Yihan was my toughest opponent. Now I've beaten her for the third straight time. I need to watch and see what I'm doing well.
"She used to catch me with her flicks from net. Her half smashes were very strong. Now I'm reacting well to her shots," she added.
Asked about the final against Li, Saina said: "Li Xuerui is a tough opponent, I hope to give my best. I want to play my natural game. She's very strong and I need to plan properly.
"I played her in Malaysia a few months ago and it was close match. Li has a few strokes which are very good, she's very strong at the net. Let's see what happens," she added.