Former world number one Saina Nehwal lost against seventh seed Nozomi Okuhara 21-12 17-21 10-21 in the semi-finals of World Championships in Glasgow. The London Game medallist settled for bronze as she failed to produce her best show against the mercurial Japanese who showed great fight to make a comeback after losing the first game. The Japanese will now take on the winner of PV Sindhu vs Chen Yufei match in the final on Sunday.
The ace Indian shuttler won a silver medal at the last edition of the prestigious championship at Jakarta in 2015. She lost a closely fought final against Carolina Marin Martin of Spain who bagged the gold in the women's single category.
Earlier in the quarterfinal, Saina dished out a gritty performance to stave off the challenge of local favourite Kristy Gilmour. The 27-year-old Indian dug deep to beat Gilmour 21-19 18-21 21-15 in a match that lasted an hour and 14 minutes. Whereas, Okuhara knocked out two-time defending champion Spain's Carolina Marin 21-18 14-21 21-15 in the other quarterfinal.
Now, all eyes will be on Saina's compatriot and two-time bronze medallist P V Sindhu who will play her semifinal late in the day against China's Chen Yufei. Yufei saw off former world champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand in the quarterfinals of World Championships.
After battling for an hour and 14 minutes, it was the World No. 12 Japanese who managed to eke out a come-from- behind 12-21 21-17 21-10 win over the Indian to become the first shuttler from her country to reach the finals of World Championships.
It turned out to be a battle of attrition between Saina and Okuhara. The two players have met seven times so far in international badminton with Saina having an upper hand in six of those battles.
The Japanese tried to engage Saina in fast-paced rallies, which were mixed with down-the-line smashes and crosscourt angled returns, sandwiched by deceptive drops. A pumped up Saina returned everything thrown at her and came up with the perfect clears to close out the rallies.
The Indian tried to put her rival out of position with her deceptive returns and it helped as she led 9-3 in the opening game, before entering the interval at 11-5 when Okuhara could not return her angled smash and found the net.
Okuhara's fast-paced game did not yield much result early on as Saina fortified her defence and continued to dominate the rallies to lead 17-10. Okuhara lost a video referral next as Saina led 18-10. The Japanese displayed a good net game to grab two points but Saina's small deception took a toil on her rival.
Another electrifying rally ended with Okuhara finding the net as Saina reached eight game points. The Indian then unleashed a body smash to close out the opening game.
After the change of sides, Saina failed to reach for a couple of forecourt returns, helping Okuhara opened up a 4-0 lead early on. The Japanese extended the advantage to 8-4 but she had a few wide strokes and Saina exploited the opportunity to unleash her trademark cross court smashes to claw her way back to 9-9.
However, Okuhara managed to grab a slender 11-10 lead with a cross court net flick which Saina failed to negotiate.
After the break, Okuhara seemed to vary the pace and Saina too faltered with a forehand and backhand return which helped the Japanese take a 14-11 lead.
Saina, however, kept breathing down Okuhara's neck, making it 15-15 when the Japanese found the net and also hit long. Okuhara conceded a point with a service error but a judgement error from Saina at the baseline again gave the Japanese a slender 17-16 lead.
Saina produced a down-the-line smash to level par, while Okuhara unleashed an onrushing backhand flick to lead 18-17 and then an overhead return took her to 19-17.
Saina's smash then missed the sideline to hand over three game points to the Japanese, who sealed it with a cross court return which found the Indian napping.
In the decider, Saina grabbed an early 3-1 lead but Okuhara soon started dominating the rallies. It resulted in five straight points and the Japanese took a 6-3 lead. Two wide shots and a low lift getting buried at the net from Saina ensured that Okuhara continued to gather points, reaching 10- 3.
Saina's trademark down-the-line smash then once again came to her rescue as she snapped the run of points but Okuhara had a seven-point advantage at the break when the Indian faltered with her net dribble.
Okuhara continued to accumulate points, sometimes using her disguise at the net. Saina periodically managed to win a point here and there but she could not stop the Japanese who led 16-7 at one stage.
Saina kept fighting but she looked a tad sluggish with her movements and lacked precision in final moments as Okuhara managed to move to 19-9.
Saina hit wide again to hand over 11 match point opportunities to Okuhara. The Indian saved one with a drop but the Japanese sealed the issue with another precise return at the baseline.
(With PTI Inputs)