World No. 3 Saina Nehwal warded off a spirited challenge from the three-time world junior champion Ratchanok Inthanon of Thailand to record a 22-20, 22-20 in the 41-minute, women’s singles quarter-final of the French Open Super Series badminton championship late on Friday night.
Saina, the London Olympics bronze medallist from India, ran up a 11-7 sizeable lead in the first game and looked to be easing her way to wrap up the game. But, the World No. 10 from Thailand was in no mood to surrender easily and came up with a brilliant counter-attack which clearly surprised the star Indian performer, winner of four titles already this year besides the Olympics bronze.
The 17-year-old Ratchanok even staved off a game point and threatened to spoil Saina’s game-plan by picking three points in-a-row to make level the scores at 20-all. That was the phase when the Thailand girl came up with impressive forehand smashes and even countered Saina’s brilliance at the net.
But, the 22-year-old champion shuttler from Hyderabad settled the issue when she forced the opponent into an erratic return and then came up with a big smash to clinch the first game.
In the second game too, Saina was off to a decent start again leading 4-0 before Thai girl showed fighting qualities with her ability to counter the Indian at the net where the Indian’s reputation is awesome.
But, just again when Ratchanok fought back brilliantly even to lead 11-8 at one stage, Saina changed gear to come up with her trademark strokes to level the scores, which happened quite frequently.
With right knee strapped, Saina brought in all her experience and class to wrap the game and the match against an opponent who won the World juniors title when she was just 14.
There were moments in the second game when Ratchanok looked dangerous and take the issue into the third game as she staved off three match-points to make reduce the lead from 17-20 to 20-all.
But, Saina was in no mood to relax and came with a brilliant return, then two big smashes to clinch the game and the match to ensure her maiden French Open semi-final appearance.
With this victory, the ace shuttler from India has moved another step closer to winning her third straight Super Series title this year.
(This story has been corrected for factual errors)