In a Rare Double for India, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth Cross the China Wall in Fuzhou
After their impressive performances in men’s and women’s singles draws, India’s Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal won the Thaihot China Open Super Series Premier Badminton tournament at the Haixia Olympic Sport Center in the Chinese city of Fuzhou. In Sunday’s men’s final, the 21-year old Srikanth achieved the biggest win of his career in beating the double Olympic gold medalist Lin Dan in straight games. A little earlier, Saina Nehwal had beaten Akane Yamaguchi of Japan in the women’s final also in straight games. It was the first time that any Indian male shuttler has won a Super Series Premier event ever since these tournaments were introduced in the BWF’s badminton calendar in 2007. With her victory, Saina will move to the no.5 spot in the BWF rankings to be announced on Monday. Indian stars have been impressive in the Thaihot China open from day 1 and besides Srikanth and Saina, Parupalli Kashyap had also reached the quarter-finals. Other than top Chinese men and women players; Chen Long, Lin Dan, Wang Zhengming, Suo Di, Liu Xin, Wang Yihan, Sun Yu and Wang Shixian the tournament field was full of top other international men and women stars like Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen, Japan’s Kento Momota and Akane Yamaguchi, Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun, Spain’s World Champion Carolina Marin and Germany’s Marc Zwiebler. Against this backdrop, victory of the Indian duo is hugely commendable.
On Sunday, the women’s singles final was played first, where Saina Nehwal faced the talented Japanese Akane Yamaguchi. Saina was relieved that none of the two top Chinese women players had made it to the final. Li Xuerui had withdrawn from the tournament while Wang Shixian had crashed out in the second round to Yamaguchi. Saina began with a 3-1 lead in the opening game and took the lead to 8-4 despite resistance from the 17-year old Japanese. Saina was able to find space for herself in producing some sharply angled volleys and down-the-line smashes. Once she found her rhythm, Yamaguchi was led into making avoidable errors. Just as Saina built a 14-7 lead, the Japanese youngster showed a few glimpses of her athletic game. But that was not enough as Saina quickly moved to the game point and finished the first game 21-12 with a delicately executed net shot. In the second game, Yamaguchi played a lot better and pushed Saina to her limits. The Japanese moved quickly around the court and retrieved some angled shots from Saina. Moreover, some of her smashes left Saina stranded. By her hard work, the Japanese built an 11-9 lead. But Saina clawed back to make the score 14-14 in a nerve-wrecking interval of time, in which both shuttlers came up with their best play and got engaged in long aggressive rallies. The game went on an even keel and despite Saina’s dominance, she could not find a way to outsmart Yamaguchi. The Japanese was able to return everything that Saina sent to her side of the court. With the score at 18-18, Saina earned a point with a disguised net shot but soon she lost two to allow a game point to Yamaguchi at 20-19. However, the match turned the other way, when Yamaguchi sent a couple of shots long and Saina sealed the game at 22-20 in 42 minutes. It was Saina’s third title of 2014 after Lucknow’s International Grand Prix Gold early in the year and the Australian Super Series in June.
In the men’s final Kidambi Srikanth faced one of the greatest living legends in badminton today. The Indian had reached the final after his semifinal match against Germany’s Marc Zwiebler, where the German had to retire midway due to an ankle injury. After his semifinal, Srikanth had said that Lin Dan was his childhood hero and it would be a big moment for him to be playing the final with the ‘Super’ Dan in his own backyard. On Sunday, Srikanth exceeded his childhood dream by beating the legendary Chinese in straight games. The world’s 16th ranked player began well and jumped to a 9-4 lead in the first game. But Dan soon found his bearings to level the score 15-15. After this, the fight was close as the score reached 19-19. It was at this point that Srikanth held his nerves, took the next two points and bagged the game 21-19. The Super Dan came back strongly in the second game and created a big lead. However, the Indian fought back strongly to level at 15-15. It was now an identical situation to the first game and Srikanth produced a faultless game in taking six out of the next eight points to shock Lin Dan and finish the match 21-19, 21-17. It was Dan’s first defeat in any final since he lost to Malaysia’s Lee Chon Wei in the 2012 Korea Open. For Srikanth, who once suffered from a bacterial brain infection, the victory in the Super Series event was the greatest achievement of his career.
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