Saina Nehwal on Saturday created history by becoming the first Indian singles player to reach the summit clash of the BWF Super Series badminton Finals after defeating Tine Baun of Denmark in the semifinals at Liuzhou in China.
World No. 4 Saina defeated No. 5 Baun 21-17, 21-18 in 34 minutes to set up a summit clash with World No. 1 Yihan Wang of China, who defeated compatriot and World No. 3 Xin Wang in the other semifinal.
The pair of Jwala Gutta and V. Diju is the only other Indians to have achieved the feat when the mixed doubles pair reached the Super Series Finals in the 2009 edition of the tournament before losing to Christinna Pedersen and Joaquim Nielsen.
Saina, who topped the Group ‘B' round-robin league, could not dominate his opponent in smash and net play and lagged behind marginally. But the Indian ran away with winners as she did overwhelmingly better in the rallies from which she won most of the points. She had eight smash winners against Baun's nine and 11 net winners to the Dane's 12. In rallies, Saina collected 23 winners as against 14 by Baun.
The first game was a see-saw affair with both the players leading in turns till 14-14. Saina then zoomed ahead with four straight points before pocketing the game at 21-17. In the second game, Saina was never behind after trailing 1-2 initially. Both the players were level at 11-11 and then 13-13 before the Indian surged ahead again to take a 19-14 lead.
At this point, Saina allowed Baun to come back at 18-19. But that turned out to be the last desperate attempt for Baun as Saina wrapped up the second game 21-18 and the match by taking two consecutive points.
China's second seed Chen Long created the shock of the tournament on Saturday as he knocked out defending champion and World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei 21-16, 16-21, 21-18.
Lee's rivalry with Chinese ace Lin Dan has been the focal point of this season and the two were expected to meet in the final on Sunday, but the 22-year-old Chen put a stunning end to speculation about a rematch. Chen sprayed 24 smashes past Lee — the same number as in his defeat over former Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat — as well as 15 clean winners, in a contest lasting an hour and 19 minutes.
Lee, who has won all three editions of badminton's season finale, was a stronger performer at the net with 14 winners against Chen's eight, but the second seed's smashes proved too good in the end.
In the women's singles semifinals, top seed Wang Yihan of China defeated compatriot Wang Xin 21-19, 21-16.