Saina had won a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, a bronze at the Asian Games, besides reaching finals at Denmark, Indonesia Masters and Syed Modi International last year.
Indian ace Saina Nehwal ground her way to the first final of the season with a combative win over China’s He Bingjiao at the USD 350,000 Indonesia Masters badminton tournament, here Saturday. The 28-year-old Indian, who was a runner-up here last year, notched up an 18-21 21-12 21-18 win over sixth seed Bingjiao, a world championship bronze medallist. Eighth seed Saina will now face either Spain’s three-time World Champion and reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin or China’s Chen Yufei, seeded third, in the women’s singles summit clash of the World Tour Super 500 event. In their first-ever meeting in the international circuit, Saina showed better court coverage and unleashed some telling smashes to trouble the 21-year-old left-hander.
Saina lagged 0-2 initially but clawed back to 5-5 with a couple of smashes. Another powerful straight smash left the Chinese stranded as the Indian led 8-6. She then went into the break with an 11-7 advantage. The Hyderabadi continued the good run after the breather to lead 16-11 but netted twice to allow Bingjiao narrow down the equation to 15-16. A brilliant cross court smash and a superb drop helped the Chinese keep the deficit to a point till 17-18. Bingjiao then won a video referral on a line call to make it 18-18. She then unleashed a smash to grab a crucial 19-18 advantage, before holding two game points. The Chinese sealed it when Saina went wide. In the second game, Saina pulled away doubling the lead at 6-3 after an initial duel.
Easy mistakes started creeping in Bingjiao’s game as she found the net often, sent the shuttle long and wide to allow Saina to enter the break with a huge 11-3 lead. After the interval, Bingjiao took four straight points before Saina engaged her rival in rallies to make it 14-7. A beautiful-looking cross court net return helped the Indian swell the lead to 17-9. She then produced two roaring cross-court smashes to inch closer to the game point, which she grabbed once the Chinese went wide. Saina eventually took the match to the decider with a crosscourt slice. In the final game, Saina continued to go strong, taking a 6-3 lead early on and then extended it to 9-5. The Indian unleashed a straight smash to leave Bingjiao on the ground.
The Chinese, however, drew parity at 10-10 with a powerful smash which Saina could only send to the net. Another rally ensued which ended with another shot going to the net as Bingjiao led 11-10 at the break. After the breather, Saina caught up with the Chinese at 13-13 after prevailing in a rally. The Indian tried to put the shuttle in difficult positions and kept it in play. She earned the lead at 17-16 with yet another smash to let out a scream. Bingjiao went to net again and hit wide next as Saina celebrated with fist pumps. The Indian grabbed two match points after punishing her rival for a mistake and sealed it with yet another precise return. Saina had won a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, a bronze at the Asian Games, besides reaching finals at Denmark, Indonesia Masters and Syed Modi International last year.