In order to be assured of the No.1 spot in the world rankings, Saina Nehwal needed one of two things to happen. She had to make the final of the Yonex Sunrise India Open Super Series. Or Carolina Marin had to fail in her bid to win the crown. The latter outcome played out first. Marin fell 19-21, 23-21, 22-20 to Intanon Ratchanok in a marathon match that lasted an hour and 24 minutes.
Then as if to celebrate what was now assured, Nehwal went on to perform a demolition act on Yui Hashimoto of Japan.
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While the Japanese player at World No. 37 was ranked far lower than the Indian, Nehwal said she was nervous playing her. The only time the two had faced off was two years ago, also at the Indian Open. Then, it was the Indian who had caved in, making a number of unforced errors before losing 13-21, 21-12, 22-20. There would be no repeat of that performance.
Playing in front of a ecstatic crowd, Nehwal won 21-15, 21-11 in 43 minutes. It was the Japanese who was forced into mistakes, which made her slim chances even worse against Nehwal who steadily gathered steam into the match. For a brief period in the opening half of the first game, the Japanese had a slight 7-5 lead but Nehwal sealed the gap as Hashimoto twice found the net during rallies.
Confident going into the rallies herself, Nehwal used plenty of variation in her clears from the back of the court. Where she once would simply go hard at the shuttle, she took her time in making the shots as she eased to a 11-8 lead.
There would be no recovery after the interval, as Nehwal pulled a crosscourt smash and then one down the line to take an 18-12 lead. Nehwal made a couple of errors to let Hashimoto close in to 18-15 but there really was little chance of a comeback with Nehwal taking the first game courtesy two poorly directed lifts from the Japanese.
The second game was even worse from the Japanese, who continued with her errors. Saina built up a 11-2 lead with a delicate net shot and Hashimoto let the next point slip away as she misjudged a line call. She would further lose her video referral at 15-3. Saina had a 14 point lead at 17-3 and while the Japanese ensured she would make it to double digits, with late run of five points, Nehwal finished the game with another push at the net.
While the match was clearly what the crowd was after, it had the misfortune of being played just after the Ratchanok-Marin game which was undoutedly the match of the day. The battle between the 2013 World Champion (Ratchanok) and the defending one (Marin), ebbed and flowed one way and then the other. Marin had never beaten Ratchanok in three previous encounters but looked certain to change that as she raced to a 17-9 lead in the first game.
However from there on, the Thai pulled off an amazing comeback as she won the next 10 points. Making things worse for the Marin was the fact that she landed awkwardly on her left foot during the course of this streak.
Marin run ends
Ratchanok eventually took the game 21-19. Marin once again took the lead in the second game and Ratchankok again pulled back from 10-6 down to level things all. Both players put out an arresting display as a number of rallies were played out along the net itself. It was Ratchanok who had a chance to seal the match when she lead 21-20 but Marin levelled and then took the next two points to force the decider.
It was Ratchanok who set the pace in the decider and while the Thai suffered cramps to her leg as the match wore on, she had two match points at 20-18. Marin saved both but Intanon won a third and kept her composure to seal the match. In the men’s singles draw, K Srikkanth made his second Super Series finals when he beat Chinese qualifier Xue Song 21-16, 21-13 in a 42-minute match.
He will take on Viktor Axelsen, who entered the final after Tommy Sugiarto, who had upset Lin Dan in the previous round pulled out with a back injury after having won the first game 24-22 but trailing 17-11 in the second. The summit clash which will be a rematch of the Swiss Open final which Srikkanth had won in three games.