Ace shuttlers Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu came up with spectacular victories but the Indian women’s team still had to be satisfied with the bronze medal after it went down fighting 2-3 to five-time champions Japan in its maiden semifinals appearance in the Uber Cup in New Delhi.
Saina and Sindhu won the first two singles to put the Indian team 2-0 ahead but they failed to win the third singles and the two doubles match to see their hopes go up in smoke at the Siri Fort Sports complex.
Olympic bronze medallist Saina gave India a positive start when she produced a dominating performance to get across world number 12 Minatsu Mitani 21-12 21-13 in a 41-minute match.
World Championship bronze winner, Sindhu, then displayed her brilliance with yet another edge-of-the seat victory over world no 13 Sayaka Takahashi 19-21 21-18 26-24 in an energy-sapping one hour and 12 minutes match to put India 2-0 ahead.
World number four pair of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, however, brought Japan back into the tie with a hard-fought 21-12 20-22 21-16 win over Commonwealth Games gold medallists Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa.
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And then PC Thulasi tried her bit before going down to 2011 All England Championship runners-up and world no 16 Eriko Hirose 14-21 15-21 in the third singles as Japan made it 2-2.
It all boiled down to Saina and Sindhu to take India through and the inexperienced doubles pair, playing only for the second time, went down 14-21 11-21 to world number five combo of Miyuki Maeda and Reika Kakiiwa.
Japan will now take on China in the finals on Saturday.
China beat Korea 3-0 in another semifinal clash.
Earlier, Saina dominated the proceedings from the start and led 11-6 at the interval. Things didn’t change much after the break as Saina kept engaging her rival in rallies and waited for Mitani to commit mistakes, to eventually pocket the game with a smart dribble at the net.
In the second game, Mitani managed to open up a small 6-3 lead, but Saina surged ahead with a couple of smashes to lead 9-8 and had her nose ahead at the break at 11-8.
Saina came up with a series of sharp cross-court smashes to extend the lead and finally sealed the issue rather comfortably when Mitani hit wide.
After Saina’s victory, a lot was expected from Sindhu and the teen sensation, once again, delivered in style.
In a battle of nerves, both the shuttlers struggled to control the shuttle and committed many unforced errors. While Sayaka lost more than a dozen points at the nets, Sindhu erred in her judgement of the shuttle and gave away points when she could not reach at the forecourt. However, in the end it was Sindhu who had the last laugh.
After the rubber, Saina said: “We did our best. We thought we could have won. When Jwala and Ashwini were leading at one point I stared thinking about the finals. So that is a bit of a disappointment but we are happy to reach the semis which we never reached before. Sindhu and I have not played professionally together but its okay. We did our best.”
In the first game, world number 13 Sayaka opened up a 9-6 lead early on, but Sindhu repaired the deficit and went into the interval with a slender 11-10 lead. However, Sayaka clawed back with a midcourt smash at 16-16 and wrested back the lead when Sindhu hit long. In the end, Sindhu hit long and found the net to hand over the game to Sayaka.
The second game was another fierce battle of supremacy as both the shuttlers fought hard but it was Sayaka who had a slender 11-10 lead at the interval. But after the breather, the duo moved from 11-11 to 19-18 when Sayaka hit the net and long as Sindhu took the game to the decider.
The decider witnessed long rallies and Sindhu mixed her drops and tosses well to lead 7-2, but Sayaka upped her net game and used her angled returns and soft lifts to lead 9-8 before moving into the break with a 11-8 lead.
Sindhu rode again on Sayaka’s series of unforced errors to not only claw back but also lead 17-13 after the breather. However, a couple of error in judging the shuttle by Sindhu and a brilliant rally which Sayaka ended with a cross court flick, helped her to draw parity at 17-17.
Sindhu then won a line review call and made a judgement call to move to 19-17 but a few errors from the Indian and the left-hander reached the match point at 20-19. Sindhu saved a point and then earned one match point with a soft tap.
What came next was a gruelling battle as Sindhu conceded four match points before finally prevailing over Sayaka when the Japanese hit the net.
In the first doubles, Jwala and Ashwini lost the first game but came back strongly in the second and were leading 20-16 at one stage.
However, the Japanese pair saved four game point to make it 20-20.
Ashwini then came up with a sharp smash to gain a point and then, with the Japanese pair hitting the net, roared back into the contest.
In the decider, both the pairs fought tooth and nail but Misaki and Ayaka led 11-9 at the break. The Japanese pair came up with a fast-paced game and engaged in rallies to extend the lead to 18-15, before sealing the match with Jwala hitting wide.