Birmingham: London Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman to reach the finals of the All England Badminton Championship, the most prestigious tournament, with a straight-game victory over Sun Yu of China in the women’s singles competition.
The World No. 3 Indian, who reached the semifinals of the event in 2010 and 2013, defeated the unseeded Sun 21-13, 21-13 in a match that lasted for 50 minutes at the Barclaycard Arena.
Saina is now just one step away from joining Indian legends Prakash Padukone (1980) and P Gopichand (2001) who have bagged the prestigious title in the past.
The girl from Hyderabad, who will turn 25 in 10 days, will face reigning world champion Carolina Marin, seeded sixth, of Spain, who defeated Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying 21-18, 21-11 in another semifinal clash on Sunday. Saina has a 3-0 record against the Spaniard.
After disposing her nemesis Yihan Wang of China, third seed Saina was faced with the task of taming the towering Sun, ranked World No. 18, who had seen off the likes of Nichaon Jindapon, Li Xuerui and Ratnachok Intanon over the last three days.
The Indian had come into the match with a 1-1 record against Sun, who had defeated her during the 2013 China Open but all that didn’t matter as Saina stamped her authority with her wide repertoire of stroke.
Saina, who had beaten Sun at the Australian Open in June last year, lagged 0-2 behind early on as Sun showed her intent to move to 4-1.
A couple of quick points and Sun led 6-1, but Saina soon drew her rival in long drawn battle of rallies, as she scripted her recovery to move to 8-10 before the Chinese surged ahead into the break with a slender 11-10 lead.
After the interval, Saina changed her tactics and was soon rewarded with a couple of points as she stretched her lead to 16-12. The Indian soon made it 19-13. An unforced error from Sun gave Saina the advantage of seven game points and the Hyderabadi sealed it when the Chinese hit the shuttle hard and long.
In the second game, Sun once again opened up a narrow 3-2 lead but Saina kept drawing her to the net, where she looked comfortable. The Chinese tried different things on the court to put Saina on the backfoot. She used her powerful smashes to good use to keep her nose ahead, going into the interval at 11-9.
Saina kept playing long rallies, relying more on the errors of her opponent. She won an easy point after the break and then produced a smash down the middle to claw back at 11-11. Another unforced error from Sun and it was 12-12. The Indian then moved into the lead with a smash that Sun could just manage to put into the net.
Saina soon erased the deficit and moved to 15-13 when Sun hit long. She kept the pressure on the Chinese drawing her close to the net and capitalising on her better net play. The result was Sun faltered on the forecourt, committed a number of unforced errors, hitting wide and long.
Saina continued her rampaging run to extend the gap to 18-13 and was soon standing on a healthy seven-match point advantage when Sun hit the net.
Next Sun found the net as Saina walked her way to the history book. A jubilant Saina threw her racquet to the crowd, celebrating her place at the finals. “It’s a big hurdle because many people think I should get to the final anyway – and that I should win every tournament I play. I like that, but it’s not easy. So I just watched Shah Rukh Khan films and tried to play my best,” Saina said.
Saina said she would take it as just another Super Series final. “I shall try to think of it tomorrow (Sunday) as just another Super Series event. If I start thinking that this is an All England final I am going to play, it’s pressure,” she said.