Dubai: What a difference 24 hours can make! Looking down and out after an insipid outing against Japan's Nozomi Okuhara on the opening day of the BWF World Superseries Finals on Wednesday, India's Saina Nehwal bounced back with a vengeance yesterday to pummel two-time reigning world champion and top seed Carolina Marin into submission, and remain in contention for a semi-final spot.
Saina Nehwal reacts after winning a point against Carolina Marin during the women's singles match during the Dubai World Superseries Finals badminton tournament in Dubai on Thursday. Pic/AFP
Smart game plan
Saina kept her cool to win the hotly contested opening game, then judiciously gave up the second game when Marin took a dominating lead, and stepped on the gas pedal in the decider, to run out a 23-21, 9-21, 21-12 winner in a thrilling 75-minute Group 'A' encounter.
There was none of the first day's leaden-footed weariness in the Indian ace's demeanour yesterday as she matched the redoubtable left-handed Spaniard stroke for stroke, playing especially well at the net where Marin looked a bit uncertain. The Indian reached game-point first. But the fighter that Marin is, she restored parity. Saina would have none of it and went one-up.
After conceding the second game without much of a fight, Saina played strongly and steadily to take a 11-8 lead at the change of ends. She extended this to 19-9, and, despite a late three-point burst by Marin, claimed a richly deserved triumph.
Saina classed the victory as one of the best of her career. "I went in with zero expectations, so I guess I was totally relaxed," she said. "And when my strokes started going exactly where I wanted, my confidence increased, and my focus improved."
The result threw the 'Group of Death' wide open, as Okuhara's 21-11, 21-16 victory over Taiwan's Tai Tzu Ying gave her two wins out of two. Marin and Saina have one victory each, while the Taiwanese remains winless. Today's matches that pit Saina against Tai and Marin against Okuhara, will determine which two go through to the semi-finals.
Should Saina and Marin both win, there will be three players with a 2-1 record in the group, and then the number of games won against games lost equation will come into play.
However, if Okuhara manages to beat Marin, and Saina wins against Tai, then the Japanese and Indian women will go through. But if Marin and Saina both lose, there will be a three-way tie and it will once again be up to the calculators.
There is no such suspense for Kidambi Srikanth, however. The 22-year-old Indian was outplayed for the second successive day, and was thrust out of contention for the semi-finals. His 13-21, 18-21 conqueror was Denmark's Victor Axelsen, who notched up his second successive triumph in Group 'B', and along with Japan's Kento Momota, marched into the next round.