Dubai: On a superb day for Indian shuttlers, Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal and World No.8 Kidambi Srikanth won their respective singles matches to open the World Super Series badminton final campaign on a positive note, here today.
Fifth-seeded Saina stunned reigning Asian Games champion Shixian Wang of China 21-17, 21-18 in her women's singles group encounter to lead the way for Srikanth at the Hamdan Sports Complex. The highest-ranked Indian male shuttler, Srikanth, then had a tough outing against Kento Momota of Japan but the sixth-seeded player overturned a one-game deficit to win 15-21 21-16 21-10.
Srikanth, 21, who was a year older than his Japanese opponent, started off lazily to lose the first game but soon got the grip. If the second game was fought hard then by the third Srikanth moved like a well-oiled machine to dispatch the Japanese. But it was Saina who started the day on a positive note after outplaying her former World No.1 rival in little less than an hour.
A 2011 finalist, Saina showed great temperament and good repertoire of strokes to tame Shixian, who had beaten the Indian four times in their last five
meetings. Coming into the match, Saina held a 5-5 record against Shixian and kept the Chinese on a tight lease right from the start and the result was an intense battle of nerves.
The intensity of the clash was palpable as Saina produced a fast-paced game and engaged Shixian in rallies which drained out the Chinese. After a close fight till 7-7, Shixian picked up a couple of points at the deep backhand corner and forecourt of Saina to open up a slender 10-8 lead. The Indian, however, didn't panic and gave a brilliant account of her temperament and preparation as she reeled off 10 straight points to move to 18-10.
Shixian grabbed three points before Saina produced an accurate smash. Shixian then handed the game point chance to Saina but the Indian hit wide. Shixian then produced a clever shot and exploited Saina's back hand to grab two more points. Saina then handed over another point to Shixian when she made a judgement error at the baseline.
But Shixian hit long next after an intense rally as Saina earned the bragging right. There was not much to differentiate between the two and it boiled down to accuracy in strokes. After a slender 2-0 lead, Saina saw Shixian surge ahead to 8-4. But egged on by the crowd, who chanted 'Saina Saina' and 'India India', Saina erased the deficit and clawed back at 9-9 with Shixian finding the net.
Saina did miss a point after committing a service error but the Indian moved into the interval with her head held high, leading 11-10. The Indian showed good anticipation and kept sending the shuttle back to her opponent's court, forcing Shixian to commit an error. Her ploy reaped her dividends as Saina lead 14-11 after a point.
Saina pounced on each opportunity, gaining points with her sharp net play and from the unforced errors committed by the Chinese. As the match waned, mistakes cropped in Shixian's game as Saina lead 18-14. Shixian also played some immaculate shots to keep breathing down Saina's neck but the Indian soon hit a body smash and then produced a deceiving block at the net to move to a healthy four-match point advantage.
The Chinese erased two match point after Saina tapped one wide and then failed to breach Shixian's defence but with her cross court return getting buried at the nets, it was celebration for the Indian.