Saina and Sindhu, India`s best players, to clash for title

Lucknow: A resurgent Saina Nehwal and fast rising PV Sindhu, country`s best women shuttlers, set up a summit clash against each other at the Indian Grand Prix Gold after emerging victorious in their respective semifinals, here Saturday.

Saina reached her first finals in 15 months after prevailing over China`s Xuan Deng 21-14 17-21 21-19 while Sindhu surpassed Lindaweni Fanetri from Indonesia 21-6 12-21 21-17 to set up a their first ever international clash against each other at the Babu Banarasi Das Indoor Stadium here.

The two, however, have played at the inaugural Indian Badminton League (IBL) last year where London Olympics bronze medallist Saina got the better of the Sindhu on two occasions.

In men`s category, K Srikanth sailed into the final by overcoming compatriot H S Prannoy 21-18 22-20, while young Aditya Prakash could not extend his dream run any further as he went down 10-21 7-21 against ninth seed Xue Song of China in the other semifinal.

The women`s singles semifinal clash between Saina and Xuan turned out to be a edge-of-the-seat thriller even though 40 ranking places separated the two.

Saina, the top seed, was untouchable in the first game as she kept a distance right from the start to the end even though Xuan kept fighting.

In the second game, Xuan opened up a slender 6-4 lead early on but Saina swiftly made it 7-7. However, the Chinese gathered five straight points to grab the lead at 15-14 and with Saina succumbing to unforced errors, Xuan roared back into the contest.

In the decider, Saina was erratic as her shots went wide and long and in a flash she was lagging 0-7. The Indian drew her first point with a crosscourt smash and then engaged in a fierce rally and slowly climbed her way to equalise at 8-8 when Xuan hit one long.

A net play gave Xuan a point and the Chinese picked up two more point, catching Saina at the nets, to lead 11-8.

Saina was too aggressive to finish the rallies earlier but the Indian slowly changed her game and made the Chinese run across the court.

The left handed Chinese kept the pressure on Saina but a terrific shot helped the Indian bridge the gap to 12-14. Even as the duo fought for each point, it was Xuan who maintained her two-point lead till 17-15. Saina then brought one back with a over-the-head smash and then an accurate baseline shot to equalise 17-17.

The two then moved from 18-18 to 19-19 as Saina finally earned the match point with a disputed line call on her right. Xuan then hit out as Saina fell on the ground in joy.

Saina had last reached a final in the French Super Series in October, 2012, but ever since she has been battling a poor form and injury issues, which saw her slip to world number nine this week from ranked second.

In the other women's last-four match, world championships bronze medallist Sindhu got off to a sensational start as she captured the opening game (21-6) with ease.

Putting the initial game-surrender behind her, Fanetri made a strong comeback to claim the next one 21-12. The 18-year-old Indian played catch up in the game before a five points rally by Fanetri put the game behind Sindhu.

The final game was keenly contested as both players matched each other at 11-11 when the sides were changes. The match was locked at 16-16 when Sindhu collected three straight points to seal the tie in her favour.

In men's doubles, Indian pair of Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar lost to Chinese duo of Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen 21-16 21-12 in the semifinals.

The Chinese combo will now take on their fellow countrymen Kaixiang Huang and Si Wei Zheng who overcame Songphon Anugritayawon and Pakkawat Vilailak of Thailand 21-18 21-12 in the other match.