These are testing times for Saina Nehwal. Though still far from reproducing her best form, she sometimes manages to ride on sheer grit to get out of trouble. Saturday was one such day when Saina’s never-say-die approach helped her escape to victory.
In a remarkable comeback, the top seed battled from a 0-7 deficit in the decider to tame China’s Deng Xuan for a place in the final of the $120,000 India Grand Prix badminton championship here.
In a close encounter lasting 80 minutes, Saina battled phases of inconsistency for a 21-14, 17-21, 21-19 triumph.
Second seed P. V. Sindhu, who figured in the day’s only other three-game thriller, completed the line-up for a dream title-match.
In a re-match of last edition’s final, Sindhu thrilled the vociferous crowd by knocking out defending champion Lindaweni Fanetri 21-6, 12-21, 21-17 for the fourth time in six meetings.
Trailing 0-4 and 11-13 in the decider, Sindhu raised the bar to lead 19-16 and eventually repeated her Malaysia Open win of January 15.
Before the two ladies made the final, National champion B. Srikanth continued his form and overpowered H. S. Prannoy 21-18, 22-20.
At the adjacent court, ninth seed Xue Song ended the dream run of Aditya Prakash 21-10, 21-7 on a day when the Chinese also monopolised all spots in the three doubles finals.
Saina, whose last final-appearance came in the French Open in October 2012, became emotional when the left-handed Deng Xuan’s cross-court return sent the shuttle out of play on match-point.
Saina squatted briefly, patted the court, stood up and tossed away her racquet into the stands. “It was a very tough match. I became very emotional because I reached the final after a long time,” said Saina, looking understandably relieved.
The way Saina, ranked ninth in the world, dominated the first game and led 14-10 in the second, it looked like a match between players separated by 40 world ranking places. But once Deng Xuan found the ‘touch’ of her deft forehand returns, the script turned dramatically with Saina stranded at 17.
In the decider, a rattled Saina could not contain Deng Xuan and trailed 0-7 in quick time. After conceding 11 successive points, Saina’s ploy to keep the shuttle away from Deng Xuan’s forehand clearly helped and the score was soon 8-8.
Undeterred, the Chinese moved ahead until Saina led for the first time at 18-17. Amid rising tension, two unforced errors from Saina brought Deng Xuan within two points of winning. But Saina held her nerve and won the last three points, but not without some help from the line-judge.
The results: Semifinals: Men: 9-Xue Song (Chn) bt Aditya Prakash 21-10, 21-7; 6-B. Srikanth bt 7-H. S. Prannoy 21-10, 21-7.
Women: 1-Saina Nehwal bt 6-Deng Xuan (Chn) 21-14, 17-21, 21-19; 2-P.V. Sindhu bt 4-Lindaweni Fanetri (Ina) 21-6, 12-21, 21-17.
Men doubles (involving Indians): 4-Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen (Chn) bt 2-Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar 21-18, 21-15.