Saina Nehwal fought another 3-game battle in Hong Kong on Friday before losing in the quarterfinals to local star Cheung Ngan Yi after 71 minutes. Trying to make a comeback at the top echelons of world badminton, Saina never gave up until the end. After losing the first game tamely, the Indian steadied herself and forced the decider. Saina might have lost but before that, she made a gallant comeback in the third game from 11-18 to draw level at 18-18. Finally she lost a long rally against the Hong Kong woman and ceded the match. Her compatriot PV Sindhu also had a hard time against Singapore’s Xiaoyu Liang but prevailed in the end. With Saina’s quarterfinal loss, the much-awaited Saina-Sindhu semifinal clash remained an unrealized dream. In men’s draw too, India had mixed fortunes. While Ajay Jayaram lost against Hong Kong’s Ng Ka long Angus, Sameer Verma sailed through to the semifinal by defeating Malaysia’s Chong Wei Feng. Next up for Sameer is Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen, who won his match against Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki Vincent.  Women’s World no.1 Carolina Marin made a signature statement by crushing no.6 seeded Japanese Akane Yamaguchi in a little over half hour and setting up a semifinal clash with Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying, who defeated the Spaniard in the quarterfinal of the Thaihot China Open last week.

Saina Loses World no.1Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu played nearly identical matches on Friday. Sindhu’s match was scheduled earlier and she lent herself into huge trouble by making too many unforced errors. She trailed 4-7 at the beginning as the Singaporean pushed Sindhu hard with her attacking game. Later Sindhu made up for her lapses and took the first game 21-17. Another poor start by Sindhu in the second game allowed Xiaoyu to put more pressure on the Indian. The two of them fought after 20-20 before Xiaoyu forced the decider by snatching the second game at 23-21. Sindhu looked like improving in the decider as she jumped to a 4-1 lead but Xiaoyu was not to be outdone yet. She clawed back with four straight points to lead 5-4. A distracted Sindhu kept committing terrible errors as Xiaoyu jumped to a 15-9 lead. It was at this juncture that Sindhu showed her true mettle by closing the gap to 14-15. The Singaporean continued to fight and the two players were level at 18-18. Just when it looked like anybody’s game, Sindhu produced a spectacular cameo and won the match 21-17, 21-23, 21-18. In the semifinal on Saturday, Sindhu will play against Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi, who defeated Saina Nehwal in the other quarterfinal.

Saina and Sindhu were on a collision course for a semifinal contest but Hong Kong’s Cheung spoiled the chances of a mouth-watering clash between the two celebrated Indians. Saina started poorly and allowed Cheung to dictate terms from the start. However, after losing the first game at 8-21, Saina came back strongly in the second. The Indian trailed in the middle game but finally forced the decider by taking the second game at 21-18. Saina couldn’t keep the momemtum in the third and fell 11-18 behind. After this, Saina summoned her reserve by reeling off seven straight points to level at 18-18. A long rally ensued at this score and Saina ceded the advantage to Cheung, who walked off with a 21-8, 18-21, 21-19 win to take on PV Sindhu for a place in Sunday’s final.

Ajay Jayaram

In men’s draw, Ajay Jayaram made his exit from the tournament with a 15-21, 14-21 loss to Hong Kong’s NG Ka Long Angus. However, the other Indian Sameer Verma played admirably to reach his first ever Super-series semifinal. Sameer warded off the challenge from Malaysian Chong Wei Feng to win in straight games 21-17, 23-21. Sameer will have a tough opponent on Saturday as he faces world no.3 Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark. The Dane beat Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki Vincent 21-19, 21-17.

MarinIn another notable match on Friday, Olympic gold medalist Carolina Marin of Spain simply outplayed Japan’s no.6 seeded Akane Yamaguchi 21-7, 21-18 in 38 minutes. On Saturday, Marin will need to overcome Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying, who had defeated the Olympic champion in the China Open quarterfinal last week. If Marin and Sindhu win their matches on Saturday, they will play a repeat of their Rio Olympic final on Sunday. For Sindhu, Friday’s victory brought a reward of assuring her a place in next month’s Dubai World Super-series Finals.