India’s Saina Nehwal scored a classy win over old foe Wang Shixian on Friday to enter the semifinal of the 2016 Dong Feng Citroen Badminton Asia Championships at China. On Thursday, Saina’s compatriot PV Sindhu made crucial errors at crunch time to lose against Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying while earlier in the competition, Kidambi Srikanth’s woes continued as he suffered another first round exit. The biggest casualty of the tournament has been Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, winner of three back-to-back Super-series tournament at India, Malaysia and Singapore. In China on Thursday, Intanon lost her second round match against Japan’s Sayaka Sato. In the star-studded tournament, most of the other higher seeded players in all categories have advanced to the semifinals and that line-up includes the big three in men’s badminton; Chen Long, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei.

Defending champion Ratchanok Intanon was considered a red-hot entry after her third consecutive Super-series win at Singapore, Malaysia and India. But she was stopped in her tracks by world no.14 Sayaka Sato of Japan. The newly crowned world no.1 Intanon began by winning the first game but lost the second. By the third game, Sato was already dictating play and Intanon’s tiredness got the better of her as she lost 21-17, 16-21, 17-21.

Asia-Championships-Day-3-Sayaka-Sato-of-JapanThere was heartening news for the fans of India’s badminton queen Saina Nehwal. The Indian’s impressive victory over the accomplished Chinese Wang Shixian apart, Saina’s movement on court showed that she had overcome the heel injury. For the last few months, Saina has been struggling with Achilles tendinitis in her right foot but on Friday, her fluid movements and net-play showed that she was returning to top form. In the first game against Shixian, Saina led in the beginning before the Chinese caught up with her at 10-10. After that it was Saina all the way as Shixian couldn’t challenge the Indian anytime. In the second game, Shixian improved her play after trailing at 6-9. Nine consecutive points scored by the Chinese gave her a 15-9 lead. Just at the right time, Saina bounced back to wipe off the lead and the two fighters engaged themselves in a fierce battle for the last few points. In the end however, Saina’s superior game saw her through. The 21-16, 21-19 victory took Saina into the semifinal, where she will square off with another highly rated Chinese Wang Yihan on Saturday.

The saga of the rest of Indian challenge was one of disappointment. In men’s draw, Kidambi Srikanth suffered yet another first-round loss going down 21-13, 12-21, 19-21 to Korea’s Lee Dong Keun after a 75 minute battle on Wednesday. There were no other Indians in the men’s field. Among women, PV Sindhu did better than that but she also failed to reach the quarterfinal after a good show in the first game and a comfortable lead in the second against Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying. After Sindhu took the first game at 21-13, she led 14-8 in the second. It was here that Ying leveled at 15-15 and saved a match point against Sindhu before disappointing the Indian with a 13-21, 22-20, 21-8 victory. Manu Attri/B Sumeeth Reddy in men’s doubles, Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa in women’s doubles and Arun Vishnu/Aparna Balan in mixed doubles also suffered first-round exits to make it a largely disappointing tournament for the Indians.

Asia-Championships-Day-4-Naoko-Fukuman-Kurumi-Yonao-of-JapanOf other seeded players in tournament, top seeded men and women singles players Chen Long and Li Xuerui have both reached the semifinals. All top-seeded doubles pairs have also entered the last four. In women’s doubles, Japan’s no.1 seeds Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi, men’s doubles top seeds Korea’s Lee Yong dae/Yoo yeon Seong and mixed doubles top seeds China’s Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei have also made expected progress into the semifinals.

However, the best performance on Friday was delivered by Japan’s women’s doubles team of Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao. The world no.9 duo kept their Olympic hopes alive in their sensational 22-20, 18-21, 21-14 quarter-final victory over home favorites Luo Ying/Luo Yu. The duel lasted for an hour and 57 minutes and will go down in the annals of badminton as one of the longest matches ever.