India’s 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal lost her singles semi-final against Japanese seventh seed Nozomi Okuhara as she settled for a bronze medal at the World Badminton Championships here on Saturday.
Saina, the 12th seed, lost 21-12, 17-21, 10-21 in an hour and 14 minutes to the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist, who became the first Japanese to reach the World Championships women’s singles final.
World Championships 2015 runner-up Saina, who had a 6-1 head-to-head record against Okuhara coming into this game, started strongly, winning the first game 21-12 as the Japanese struggled to get into her rhythm.
The 22-year-old Japanese struggled with her net play and a few erratic line judgements to trail 6-11 which became 6-15 before losing 12-21.
Okuhara got off to a flying start in the second game, taking a 4-0 lead but the 27-year-old Saina fought back and equalised at the nine-point mark.
Saina kept pace with her younger and sharper opponent but she got tired towards the end. At 17-all, Saina wasted a great chance to take the lead as she fired a smash wide right.
Then, Okuhara claimed three consecutive points as she showed more energy and agility as a tired Saina failed to stop her from dictating the rallies.
In the third game, Okuhara completely dominated and her fast-paced game didn’t allow Saina to get back into it.
Saina struggled with movements and failed to reach for Okuhara’s delectable drop shots.
Okuhara, the 2012 world junior champion, raced away to an 11-4 lead and afterwards it was just a matter of time before the Japanese sealed the game at 21-10 and with this a place in the final.
Okuhara will meet the winner between India’s P.V. Sindhu and Chinese rising star Chen Yufei in the final on Sunday.
Meanwhile, men’s singles defending champion Chen Long of China was ousted by Viktor Axelsen of Denmark. The Danish third seed crushed the 2016 Olympic champion 21-9, 21-10 in 39 minutes.
Axelsen, who won the bronze in the 2014 worlds and 2016 Rio Olympics, was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency: “I am still a little out of words, I never expected to win that comfortably, I am very happy. I made little mistakes today and made very few errors.
“It was nice to get revenge from the Olympic semi-finals, I am very proud of myself.
“My coach and I always look back at past championships to get better and improve on my game. Denmark is a small country but I am very proud that we can compete with the bigger countries. It’s a dream come true, ever since I was a little boy I dreamed of a World Championships final.”
Chen, 28, said he was under too much pressure. “I got the first points, then lost a lot of the next, and that really affected my game. In the second I managed to go ahead and that put a lot of pressure on me, but Victor played very well.
“Congratulations to Victor to getting to the final, he played the perfect game,” he added.