Lucknow: London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal reached her first finals in 15 months after the Indian ace packed off sixth seed Chinese Xuan Deng in a thrilling three-game women`s singles match of the Syed Modi International badminton tournament here Saturday.
The top seeded Indian let out a huge scream after eking out a hard-fought 21-14 17-21 21-19 victory over world number 49 Xuan in the semi-final clash, which lasted an hour and 19 minutes at the Babu Banarasi Das Indoor Stadium.
In men`s singles, young Aditya Prakash could not extend his dream run any further as he went down 10-21 7-21 to ninth seed Xue Song of China in the semifinals.
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 was untouchable in the first game as she kept a distance right from the start to the end even though Xuan kept breathing down her neck throughout the game.
In the second game, Xuan opened up a slender 6-4 lead early on but Saina was quick to march ahead from 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 shuttles went wide and long and in a flash she was lagging 0-7. The Indian drew her first point with a cross court smash and then engaged in a fierce rally and slowly climbed her way to equalise at 8-8 when Xuan hit 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 in the breather.
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 did keep the pressure on Saina but a terrific shot helped the Indian bride 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 another 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.