Saina Nehwal is rocking in Birmingham. The 24-year-old shuttler dazzled twice in a span of 17 hours on the All England centre court, demolishing two Chinese stars to waltz into her maiden final on Saturday.
The world No. 3 is just one win away from becoming the first Indian woman to annex the prestigious crown. Among men, Prakash Padukone and her former coach Pullela Gopichand are the only players from the country to have achieved this phenomenal feat.
Her opponent in the final is sixth seed and current world champion Carolina Marin of Spain, who defeated Tzu Yin Tai of Chinese Taipei 21-18, 21-11.
Just hours after crushing her nemesis Wang Yihan 21-19, 21-6 in the quarterfinals on Friday, Saina steamrolled Sun Yu 21-13, 21-13 in a contest that looked like a duel between the mighty and the hapless.
Saina felt the mental side was the biggest part of the struggle. “It’s a big hurdle because many people think I should get to the final anyway – and that I should win every tournament I play,” she told reporters in Birmingham. “I like that, but it’s not easy. So I just watched Shah Rukh Khan’s films and tried to play my best.”
Saina has been on a roll at this Super Series Premier after a long gap. She has not dropped a single game in the four matches she has played in this year’s edition.
The manner in which she mauled Yihan on Friday, has made Saina the overwhelming favourite to clinch the title. Yihan was the only player to consistently trouble Saina. In the 11 meetings prior to Friday’s clash, Yihan won 10 times and Saina just once. But Saina buried all those demons with a sterling display of all-round badminton. Yihan initially succeeded in troubling her at the forecourt but Saina responded with aggression. As Yihan tried to engage the Indian with long rallies, Saina went for the kill and dismissed the rallies with power-packed smashes. It was here that the Indian gained decisive advantage.
In the second game, Saina toyed with Yihan as she began with an 8-0 lead before routing the former world champion.
With Sun being the only ray of hope in the women’s singles, the Chinese appeared to have done their homework. Unlike her senior on Friday, Sun tried to restrict Saina to the baseline. The ploy looked like working as Sun opened with a 6-1 lead. Sadly for Sun that was her only moment of triumph. After the break, Saina was at her sizzling best. From 10-11, she moved into the lead with a four-point burst. Then from 16-13, she clinched five consecutive points to snuff Sun out of the contest.
The Indian, who has won close to 20 international titles, was even better in the second game. Sun was in the contest only till the 13th point. From 14-13, Saina closed the issue by scoring seven successive points.
“Playing the semifinal at the All-England is an honour, and next time I shall try to do better,” Sun said. “Saina has improved a lot in the last couple of months but this has given me confidence that I can improve.”
Saina admitted she hadn’t expected to reach the semis because of Wang Yihan, a player who she had never before beaten in a completed match. Now, having reached the final, she felt she needed to adopt a different approach. “I shall try to think of it tomorrow as just another super Series event. If I start thinking that this is an All-England final I am going to play, it’s pressure,” she said.
The men’s final will be between top seed Chen Long of China and second seed Jan Jorgensen of Denmark. Long beat countryman Lin dan 21-13, 21-12 while Jorgensen ousted Sho Sasaki of Japan 21-11, 21-12 in the semifinals.
Results (semifinals): Men’s singles: 2-Jan Jorgensen (Den) bt Sho Sasaki (Jpn) 21-11, 21-12. 1-Chen Long (Chn) bt 5-Lin Dan 21-13, 21-12.
Women’s singles: 3-Saina Nehwal (Ind) bt Sun Yu (Chn) 21-13, 21-13. 6-Carolina Marin (Esp) bt 7-Tai Tzu Ying (Tpe) 21-18, 21-11.
(with inputs from agencies)