Saina Nehwal makes Australian Open summit clash

Sydney, June 28 : India’s top shuttler Saina Nehwal came out with her A-level game Saturday to defeat Chinese top seed Shixian Wang and make her first Super Series final in 20 months at the $750,000 Australian Open here. World No.2 Shixian fought extremely hard but had to relent to the continuous pressure from India’s sixth seed. In the end, the scoreline read 21-19, 16-21, 21-15 in favour of the Hyderabadi, who won the marathon women’s singles semifinal in one hour and 16 minutes at the States Sports Centre.

With the win the World No.8 Saina, who last appeared in a Super Series final at the French Open in October 2012, took a 5-3 lead in career meetings over the former World No.1. ”Beat world number 2 wang shixian in a tough 3 game match. Through to the final of the Australian Open super series,” Saina tweeted.

The Indian will next face Spanish World No.11 Carolina Marin, who made her first Super Series summit clash after beating Japan’s Yui Hashimoto 21-17, 21-16 in the other semifinal. The Olympic bronze medallist can take heart from the fact that she won the only meeting between them so far last year in Indonesia. Saina rediscovered some of her best form in thwarting the long-time rival. The match was played at a high level with little separating the two. Shixian had two straight wins over Saina coming here but it was the sixth seed who looked more confident as she chased down Shixian’s shots.

The Indian had a surprise element in store — a new ‘holding’ shot near the net that caught Shixian off-guard a couple of times and proved pivotal in taking the first game.

With a 12-7 lead in the second, it looked like Saina was cruising to a comfortable win but at this point Shixian dug in to play some of her best badminton. Shifting to a higher gear and showing greater intensity, the Chinese reeled off a sequence of points, thanks in part to some unusual forehand shots that left the Indian stranded. At 16-15 came the defining moment as Shixian unleashed her steep and deceptive slices to open a breach in her opponent’s defences. Saina took a medical timeout but the break only allowed Shixian to sew up the game with three of the next four points.

The third game continued in the same vein. It was touch-and-go until 13-all, after which Shixian’s accuracy deserted. A few of her shots landed marginally outside while Saina’s own skills came to her aid. The Indian won matchpoint with a decisive smash and entered the final when her opponent sent her own smash wide.