It was a proud moment for Indian Badminton, when Saina Nehwal attained the no. 1 spot in BWF Rankings even before her semifinal match, since her closest competitor Carolina Marin of Spain lost in the other semifinal against Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon at the Siri Fort Sports Complex. Saina then celebrated her new exalted status by defeating Japan’s Yui Hashimoto to enter the final of the Yonex Sunrise India Super Series. The tournament saw another Indian Kidambi Srikanth also reach the men’s singles final, when he demolished Xue Song of China in the semifinal. The two celebrated Indians have entered the finals of the India Super Series for the first time in their careers and after their China Open victory late last year; they stand on the verge of being crowned as champions in another BWF super-series event.
This also ends over four-year hegemony of the women’s singles top rank by the Chinese. The last time a non-Chinese was ranked No. 1 was back in December 2010 when Denmark’s Tine Baun had held the number one spot. This was also the first time that two Indians have reached the finals at the India Open Super-series. Olympic bronze medalist, Saina Nehwal is the first ever Indian woman to have attained the world number one status and if you count all Indian shuttlers, she joins Prakash Padukone, who once became world’s no.1 men’s badminton player many years ago. The big moment was ironically brought about, when the first semifinal of the Yonex Sunrise India Super Series took place between Spain’s Carolina Marin and Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon at the Siri Fort Sports Complex. Marin’s loss to Intanon sent Saina to the numero uno status. But if Marin had won, Saina would have to wait a bit longer to reach the coveted spot. But as events unfolded, Saina was already no.1, when she took to the court against Hashimoto. The Hyderbadi star celebrated her newly acquired status by thrashing the Japanese 21-15, 21-11 in just 43 minutes to the utter delight of her fans in India and abroad.
In her match against the Japanese, Saina played like a true champion and dominated most of the long rallies. She brought out all the exquisite strokes from her armor and pushed the Japanese into committing a number of errors. The entire stadium was behind Saina as she led 11-8 at the break in the first game. When the play resumed, Saina jumped to an 18-12 lead with delicate drop shots, deep returns and powerful smashes that left the Japanese dumbfounded. She allowed a few points to Hashimoto but finished the game at 21-15. In the second game, Saina raced away to a solid 11-2 lead at the interval and afterwards made it 15-3. But at this point, the Japanese raised her game and tried to fight back. But the margin of lead was too wide for Hashimoto to spring any surprises. However, Hashimoto saved five match points before Saina finished the match with a delicate push at the net.
In Sunday’s final, Saina will square off against no.3 seed Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand. Intanon defeated no.2 seeded Carolina Marin of Spain in a thrilling 90 minute encounter that lasted over three games. The Thai woman took the first game 21-19 but Marin fought back to take the second 23-21. The decider went on the knife’s edge and any player could have won but sustained efforts from Ratchanok Intanon ensured that she finally edged out the Spaniard 21-19, 21-23, 22-20. Saina Nehwal holds a 5-3 record over Intanon but that is no guarantee of her victory in the final. All in all, a very close final match is on cards tomorrow.
While the limelight on Saturday was stolen by Saina, Kidambi Srikanth also reached the final of the men’s singles. In the semifinal, world no.4 Srikanth outplayed Chinese qualifier Xue Song 21-16 21-13 in just 42-minutes. Srikanth, who won the Swiss Open only a few days ago, will meet Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen in the final on Sunday. On his part, Axelsen defeated the 8th seeded Indonesian Tommy Sugiarto, who won a hard-fought first game 24-22 but retired with Axelsen leading 17-11 in the second game. The match between Srikanth and Axelsen will be a repeat of their Swiss Open final and the Dane could be looking for his revenge.