KUALA LUMPUR: After two successive defeats, Saina Nehwal finally managed to post a hard-fought win over Yeon Ju Bae of Korea in her last Group B match but it was not good enough to ensure a semifinal berth for the Indian ace shuttler in the BWF World Superseries Finals on Friday.
The 23-year-old Indian registered a 21-11, 17-21, 21-13 win over Bae in a match that last for one hour. It was Saina’s sixth victory over Bae, who had an upper hand against the Indian recently in French Super Series and World Champioship.
World number six Saina had suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of Minatsu Mitani of Japan and world number one Chinese shuttler Li Xuerui in her two matches of Group B, which had put her in a must-win situation on Friday to salvage any hope of a semifinal qualification.
A straight-game victory over Bae would have brightened her chances but after the Korean snatched the second game away, it dashed the hopes of the Olympic bronze medallist to reach the semis.
Later in the day, Xuerui packed off Mitani 21-11, 21-14 to make it a three-way tie among Saina, Bae and Mitani for the second place in the group.
However, according to the tournament rules, when the difference of games won and games lost was calculated, Bae was found ahead of Saina and Mitani and the Korean joined Xuerui as the runners-up from Group B.
After lying low for the last two days, Saina came out with all cylinders blazing against Bae. She moved well across the court and played an aggressive game.
In the opening game, from 6-6, Saina registered six straight points to gather a healthy lead. The six point run was broken when Saina hit long but the Indian continued to dominate and reached 15-7. But a series of unforced errors saw Bae trim the lead to 10-15.
Saina then engaged her rival in an aggressive rally and finished it with a good net play. The left-handed Bae found it difficult to negotiate Saina’s better net play and allowed the Indian to take a 18-10 lead.
A couple of points more and Saina was sitting comfortably on a 10 game points but the Indian rushed into a net shot as Bae saved one game point but the Hyderabadi didn’t make any more mistake and nosed ahead when the Korean hit wide.
The second game was a tight battle as Saina had to dig deep into her reserves to keep her nose ahead. Both the shuttlers played out of their skin and engaged in some amazing rallies and net duel but it was Bae who enjoyed a narrow 11-10 lead at the break.
Saina was more aggressive after the interval but Bae still managed to win points with the help of her repertoire of strokes – first a drop at the fore court and then a powerful smash.
Bae soon reached 15-12 but Saina tried to stay close with her baseline smashes.
As the game wear on, Saina hit harder and harder to make it 16-17 but Bae was not ready to take it lying low. The Korean made Saina run back and froth in the court and changed the pace to slowly reach 20-16. Saina saved a game point but the Indian served long to allow Bae come back into the contest.
In the decider, Saina opened up a 4-0 lead but she rushed to a net shot to allow Bae a point. Bae tried to tire out the Indian with a long rally but a right judgement allowed Saina to lead 6-1.
Bae slowly made it 4-8 but the Indian ensured that she enjoyed a six-point advantage at the break.
After the interval, Bae tried to get back into the match but Saina ensured that she kept her lead and eventually closed the issue comfortably at 21-13.