Crowned the world number one, Saina Nehwal today celebrated her numero uno status with a straight-game demolition of Japanese Yui Hashimoto, while Kidambi Srikanth too saw off Xue Song of China to reach their maiden finals at the Yonex Sunrise India Super Series here.
The Olympic bronze medallist, Saina became the world number one even before she took the court for the semifinals after her closest competitor Carolina Marin of Spain lost in the other last-four match against Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon at the Siri Fort Sports Complex.
The girl from Hyderabad thrashed Hashimoto 21-15, 21-11 in a match that lasted for 43 minutes to set up a title clash with former world champion Intanon. Saina has a 5-3 head-to-head record against the Thai player. But Saina had beaten her the last time they played at the Uber Cup here.
World No. 4 Srikanth, who had clinched the Swiss Open earlier this month, also made his second successive finals after prevailing over Chinese qualifier Xue Song 21-16 21-13 in a 42-minute match. He will take on Viktor Axelsen in the summit clash which will be a rematch of the Swiss Open final.
Talking about her number one ranking, Saina said: “It is a dream come true. I can’t even believe that I have become the world number one. I guess till the time I see my name there myself I won’t be able to believe it. It has been a long journey,” Saina said.
“I want to thank Vimal Sir, my parents for the success. Vimal sir had told me that I will be number one by May. I can’t still believe it.”
News started to float about Saina reaching the number one ranking after her closest rival for the top spot Marin lost to Intanon.
Once on the court, Saina played like a champion as she dominated the long rallies with her repertoire of strokes and pushed the Japanese to commit mistakes.
Egged op by a vociferous weekend crowd, Saina led 11-8 at the break.
The Indian continued her dominating run after the interval, using her drops, deep returns and accurate smashes to lead 18-12.
Saina lost a few points due to service fault and a couple of miscued shots before grabbing the first game courtesy two unforced errors by her opponent.
The change of sides didn’t change Hashimoto’s fate much as she continued with her unforced errors, hitting wide and long and faltering at the nets to allow Saina to zoom to a 11-2 lead with a delicate net shot that caught the Japanese napping.
The loud cheers of ‘jitega bhai jitega India jitega’ reverberated across the Siri fort complex that was thronged by fans.
The script didn’t change much after the interval as Hashimoto struggled with her strokes. She also lost a video referral as Saina reached 15-3 lead. The Indian continued to ride on the Japanese’ erratic strokes to grab a couple of points.
Hashimoto won a point after a net exchange and added a few more when Saina hit wide but she could never threaten the Indian who moved to a 14 match points after the Japanese hit long.
Not ready to go down without a fight, Hashimoto saved five match points before Saina completed the demolition with a delicate push at the net.
In the men’s singles, Srikanth fought back after being 0-3 down initially to level score at 4-4 and then broke off at 7-all and never looked back despite Song giving him a charge and narrowing the gap to 16-17 at one point.
In the second game, Song again surged ahead to a 4-0 lead but the Indian too clawed back with a four-point burst and then wrested the lead at 9-9. He never allowed the Chinese to come near him and held his fort to sail into the finals.
Former national coach Vimal Kumar credited Saina for becoming the world no 1 and also praised Srikanth.
“Saina is the one best player in the world. It is her efforts, she has got good work ethics. When you see that desire to excel that only a few will have like Roger Federer or Nadal, they have achieved so much but still wants to be the best. I see that drive in Saina.
“When you are the top 8 there is always a good possibility to be no 1. She has shown consistency in last 2-3 months and I am happy for her,” Vimal said.
“Srikanth is the next player, who has the real possibility of becoming the number one and winning big tournaments,” he added.