When India decided to shore up their second doubles pair, it was Saina Nehwal who put her hand up and agreed to partner PV Sindhu. The combination first appeared on the team sheet of the Uber Cup in the group match against Thailand.
Against the Thais, Saina and Sindhu had won the first two singles and the doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa took the doubles. As all five ties are played in the group stages, even when a team has taken an insurmountable lead, the newly-formed combination was tried out in what was to be their first competitive doubles match.
Saina and Sindhu went down in two games but since India had already advanced to the quarterfinals, only positives were drawn from the loss in the second doubles.
The decision to tag team India’s best two singles players was taken to add to the muscle of the squad if and when a five-match tie is played out in its entirety. The hosts banked on winning the first three ties because the first two singles and the first doubles pair were their strongest suit.
Unfortunately, Japan, India’s opponents in the semifinals on Friday, possessed stronger all-round strength than what India had faced in the tournament so far.
Japan have three singles players in the top-20 while the doubles pairs of Misaki Matsutomo and Sayaka Takahashi are ranked No.4 and Miyuki Maeda and Reika Kakiiwa are just a place below their compatriots.
Once again India won the first two singles. Saina beat Minatsu Mitani in straight games and Sindhu, for the second day in a row, dug deep to pull off a 19-21, 21-18, 26-24 win against Takahashi. Sindhu’s seventy-two minute battle on court shifted the momentum in favour of the hosts. It was now up to India’s best ranked doubles combination to finish off the tie and not leave it to PC Thulasi, whose big match temperament had a question mark against it, or to the scratch pair of Saina-Sindhu.
After losing the first game against Matsutomo and Takahashi, Jwala and Ashwini took the second game and were leading 8-4 in the third. It was a lead that would have put even the hardy Japanese, who thrive on their well-rounded defensive game, under pressure.
But the Japanese rallied to win five consecutive points and the Indians could perhaps instantly feel the tide turning. From 9-all, the Japanese never fell behind and took the third game to get a foothold back in the match.
When on song, like they were during the group games against Canada, Hong Kong and Thailand (and in the quarterfinals versus Indonesia for that matter), the Indian continued…