Single-handedly, and without any help from her higher-ranked compatriot PV Sindhu, India’s shuttle queen Saina Nehwal succeeded in the onerous task of stopping the formidable Japanese armada in its tracks.
Having handed World No 2 Akane Yamaguchi a straight-games defeat in the second round of the $775,000 prize money Denmark Open badminton championships, Saina stood firm and strong against everything thrown at her by the 2017 world champion and No 8 seed, Nozomi Okuhara, to finish their quarter-final with a brilliant rearguard 17-21, 21-16, 21-12 victory in two minutes under the hour mark. The twin triumphs more than made up for Sindhu’s shock first-round exit at the hands of American-Chinese Beiwen Zhang, on Tuesday.
Friday’s success over the returning machine from Nagano was all the more sweet because it provided balm for the heartbreak that the 28-year-old Saina had suffered at Okuhara’s hands at the same stage of the Korea Open, being edged out at 20-22 after holding four match-points at 20-16. It was her seventh win in 11 career meetings with the Japanese, five years her junior, and came after a string of three consecutive defeats.
Realising that Okuhara would be ready this time for the surprise rally-extending tactics that the Indian had employed at their clash in Seoul three weeks ago, the vastly experienced Saina switched strategies and stayed on the offensive right ...