At the 2016 Dong Feng Citroen Badminton Asia Championships on Saturday, India’s Saina Nehwal suffered another semifinal loss after similar fate in Swiss Grand Prix Gold, India Super Series and Malaysia Super Series Premier. Also it was the eleventh time that the Indian had lost to China’s Wang Yihan. After a fine display against another Wang; Shixian, on Friday, Saina looked a ghost of her true self and couldn’t stand up to Yihan’s tactically dominating game. Yihan will take on compatriot Li Xuerui in the final on Sunday. In men’s final, world no.1 Chen Long will have another showdown with Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei. But Saturday truly belonged to the Japan’s women’s doubles pair of Kurumi Yonao and Naoko Fukuman. Just a day earlier, Yonao/Fukuman had come through in a 117-minute marathon against China’s Luo twins to reach the semifinals. On Saturday, they did even better and created history. Hanging on grimly for 2 hours and 41 minutes, Yonao and Fukuman defeated Indonesia’s Greysia Polii and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari in badminton history’s longest match ever. Apart from taking them to the final, the result also helped the gritty Japanese duo in inching closer to a place in 2016 Rio Olympics.
Saina Nehwal couldn’t break the jinx of reaching the final of a major tournament this year. She had a successful 2015 season but since late in 2015, Saina has been troubled by a foot injury that came in her way of playing several tournaments. Her ranking has also dropped to no.8 in the world. This year, Saina was able to reach the semifinals of Swiss Grand Prix Gold, India Super Series and Malaysia Super Series but couldn’t make it to finals. The same fate beckoned her on Saturday at China, where she lost to her nemesis Wang Yihan, who has now beaten the Indian 11 times in 15 encounters. Saina began well as she led 3-0 in the first game but Yihan came back after trailing at 6-9. The Chinese star not only wiped off the deficit but took a decisive lead to seal the first game. In the second, Yihan raced away to a 5-0 lead before Saina could score her first point. It was clear that the Chinese had a more dominating game as she made Saina run from pillar to post before winding up the match with a 21-16, 21-14 victory. In the final, Yihan will square off with compatriot and no.1 seed Li Xuerui, who beat Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun 22-20, 21-11 in 40 minutes.
Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei faced old foe Lin Dan of China in men’s semifinals. It was a hard-fought 71-minute long encounter between two of badminton’s greatest players of modern era. After Lee edged out Dan in the first game 22-20, the Chinese vehemently struck back with a crafty and powerful game to force the decider by taking the second game at 21-15. The third game proved to be an anti-climax as Lee opened a 13-0 lead that went to 18-4. After that, Lin Dan didn’t even bother to return Lee’s service and the Malaysian ended winner at 22-20, 15-21, 21-4. For the title on Sunday, the Malaysian will fight with world no.1 Chen Long, who didn’t have much difficulty in disposing off compatriot Tian Houwei 21-14, 21-16 in the other semifinal.
But nothing on Saturday could even remotely equal the epic women’s doubles match between Japanese Kurumi Yonao/Naoko Fukuman and Indonesia’s Greysia Polii/Nitya Krishinda Maheswari. Only a day earlier, the Japanese pair had beaten world no.2 Luo Ying/Luo Yu after fighting for 117 minutes. In about the next 24 hours, they were facing another celebrated player for a place in the final. What followed was a drama never seen on badminton courts. Yonao/Naoko lost the first game 13-21 and no one gave them any chance against Polii/Maheswari. But the doughty Japanese women fought the odds with physical and mental strain in forcing a decider by winning the second game 21-19. The third game brought an edge-of-the-seat thrill, until Yonao/Naoko nailed the final point. The Japanese pair had missed out on three match points earlier but drew upon their vast reserves of patience and tenacity in winning at 13-21, 21-19, 24-22. The match lasted for 161 minutes and broke the all-time records as the longest match. Though rule changes have affected the game, the longest recorded singles match lasted for 124 minutes and it was played between Denmark’s Peter Rasmussen and China’s Sun Jun. The Dane had beaten the Chinese in men’s singles final at the Glasgow’s World Championship on June 1 1997. But Saturday’s match just went on and on with none of two pairs wanting to yield. The victory for Yonao/Fukuman means that Sunday’s women’s final will be an all Japanese affair, in which Yonao/Fukuman will take on top seeds and world no.1 Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi. Fukuman and Yonao can travel to Rio only if they win the title.