NEW DELHI: Local favourites Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth on Sunday gave double delight to the nation by clinching their maiden women and men’s singles titles at the India Open Super Series badminton tournament.
Saina, the first Indian women shuttler to achieve world number one ranking, clinched her maiden title here after notching up a dominating straight game victory against former world champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand while Srikanth had to toil hard to register a thrilling three-game win over sixth seed Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the men’s singles competition at the Siri Fort Sports Complex.
While Saina, a bronze medalist at the London Olympics, played like a champion to get the better off Intanon 21-16, 21-14 in a relatively one-sided affair, world No. 4 Srikanth notched up his second successive title of the season by getting the better of sixth seed Axelsen 18-21, 21-13, 21-12 in a grueling contest later in the day.
The men’s singles summit clash was a rematch of the Swiss Open final where Srikanth had defeated world No. 6 Axelsen to clinch his first title of the season.
But up first Saina, coming into the match with a 5-3 overall advantage over her rival, was not tested much as the Indian was prepared for Intanon’s deceptive game.
Saina encountered her rival with her better movements and powerful and accurate smashes to eventually wrest her second title of the season.
The girl from Hyderabad, who has been on a roll ever since her victory at the China Open, played like a champion as she anticipated her opponent’s moves and caught her on the wrong foot during rallies.
Intanon, seeded third, seemed to be affected by her marathon semifinal match against Carolina Marin of Spain which lasted for close to an hour and half on Saturday.
The energy-sapping clash seemed to have made her movements slow on the court as she struggled with her returns.
The deafening cheers of the near-packed house crowd which chanted ‘India India’ and ‘let’s go Saina lets go’, seemed to disrupt Intanon’s concentration as nothing went for her in the match.
Saina used her powerful smashes and rode on her opponent’s unforced errors to lead 11-5 early on. She was up for the deceptive drops and half smashes which Intanon used to trouble the Indian.
After the break, Intanon gave a glimpse of her superb game as she engaged in a long rally with the Indian and her wristy dribbles to narrow the gap to 10-12.
However, Saina didn’t allow the Thai to threaten her as she anticipated well and retrieved everything that was thrown at her end. She closed the points with a smash whenever there was a chance.
Intanon had no answer to Saina’s accurate and powerful strokes as she ended up sending them wide and long or at net to allow her opponent gain a massive nine game point advantage at 20-12.
Intanon saved four game points before Saina sealed the opening game when the Thai girl hit long.
The change of side didn’t alter anything as Saina once again rushed to a 5-0 lead. Intanon gained a few points with her half smashes and deceptive strokes but the Indian still managed to zoom into the break with a 11-6 lead.
After the break, Intanon caught Saina a few times at the forecourt but those were few as Saina raced to a 17-11 lead.
Intanon reduced the gap to 18-14 but the Thai girl once again hit out twice to first give Saina the match point and then the title.
Saina won the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold in Lucknow in January, before becoming the first Indian women to reach the final of the All England Championships. She achieved her dream of becoming the world number one on Saturday after Carolina Marin lost in the semifinals.
Later in the day, Srikanth gave more joy to the home fans when he eked out a fighting three-game win over Axelsen, who had sent packing H S Prannoy in the quarterfinals.
Seeded second Srikanth showed tremendous grit as he fought back from 3-7 down in the decider to edge out his opponent for the second time in as many encounters.
Axelsen had reached the finals as his semifinal opponent Tommy Sugiarto retired midway in the second game after winning the first but the Dane could not cross the final hurdle.
Axelsen, the world championship bronze medallist, opened up a 8-5 lead in the opening game and even though Srikanth clawed back at 9-9, the Dane broke off soon and didn’t allow his plans to go wayward.
In the second game, Srikanth came up with a dominating show as he zoomed to a massive 12-4 lead. The 2010 World junior champion, however, reduced the margin to 11-13 but the Indian soon marched ahead to roar back into the contest.
In the decider, Axelsen, who won bronze medals at the 2012 and 2014 European Champion, opened up a 7-3 lead and after a fierce battle, the Dane entered the interval with a 11-9 advantage.
But Srikanth had other plans as soon after the break, he caught up with Axelsen at 12-12 and then reeled off nine straight points to seal the issue in his favour.
It is yet another feather in Srikanth’s cap as he has been on a roll ever since winning the China Open Super Series Premier last November. He reached the semifinals of the Hong Kong Open, World Super Series Finals, made it to the finals of Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold before winning the Swiss Open.
Meanwhile, Badminton Association of India President Akhilesh Das Gupta has announced Rs 10 lakhs for Saina for becoming the world No. 1 shuttler, while awarded Srikanth Rs 5 lakhs for winning the men’s singles title.