Srikanth, Saina savour success

Singles victories a shot in the arm for Indian shuttlers as they near season-end

Srikanth, Saina savour success

On a historic day for Indian badminton, shuttlers Saina Nehwal and K Srikanth clinched the women’s and men’s singles title of the $700,000 China Open Super Series Premier respectively, here on Sunday.

While Olympic bronze-medallist Saina had to draw from her reservoir of experience to stave off the challenge of the Akane Yamaguchi of Japan, young Srikanth notched up a stunning straight-game victory over two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan of China to register his maiden Super Series title.

In her sixth appearance in the prestigious tournament, the Indian prevailed over the 17-year-old Akane 21-12, 22-20 in the women’s singles final that lasted 42 minutes at the Haixia Olympic Sport Center.

The 21-year-old Srikanth showed nerves of steel to produce a dominating performance which helped him see off five-time world champion Lin 21-19, 21-17 in the men’s singles final which lasted 46 minutes.

This is the first time any Indian male shuttler has won a Super Series Premier event ever since its inception.

In a battle of nerves, Srikanth led 11-7 initially but Lin came back to narrow it down to 11-10.

The 31-year-old showed tremendous control in his strokes but the Indian used his sharp angled net dribbles and powerful smash to keep his nose ahead at 14-12.

Lin, however, soon started bothering the Indian with precise strokes to turn the tables, reaching 19-17.

Srikanth found his bearing in time and not only clawed his way back with a couple of points but also earned his game point after winning a referral.

The Indian then produced a bodyline smash to snatch the opening game from his fancied rival.

The second game started on a similar note as both the shuttlers put their best foot forward to be locked at 8-8 before Lin entered the interval with a 11-9 lead.

Srikanth, however, soon drew parity at 12-12 before taking soaring ahead to have four match points at 20-16.

Lin saved one but the Indian grabbed the next point to etch his name in the history books.

It was Saina who brought the first cheers for the Indian camp when she claimed her maiden China Open title.

Saina led 3-1 in the opening game and extended it to 8-4. She kept the pace to lead 14-7 as her young rival committed unforced errors at regular intervals.

Akane showed glimpses of her talent to bring herself back in the game but Saina’s experience helped her take the first stanza 21-12. 

The Japanese teenager began the second game in promising fashion as she entered the interval with a 11-9 advantage but Saina restored parity at 14-14.

Saina mixed her strokes well to dominate the rallies but she still found it difficult to find a chink in the Japanese’s armour who returned everything that was directed at her.

At 18-18, Saina earned a point with a disguised net shot, but the Indian hit one long and then missed another point to allow Akane a game point at 20-19.

However, a couple of long shots by the Japanese swung the match the other way, sealing the title for Saina.

This is Saina’s third title of the year as the Indian had won the Australian Super Series in June, besides clinching the Syed Modi International Grand Prix Gold early in the year.

Vimal’s praise

Vimal Kumar, who has been coaching Saina prior to the Asian Games, said: “It was Saina’s hard work which helped her to win this title. She has been putting a lot of hours but I told her that she needed to include more quality than quantity. Now she has to be more consistent as there are 8-9 girls who are very good.

“She played a sharp game in China and it will give her a lot of confidence. She was varying the pace of the game. She has been practising the variations. The Japanese girl is very good and one to be watched out for in future. She thrashed so many Chinese and has got great mobility.”

Hard work paying off, says Saina

Fuzhou (China): Olympic bronze-medallist Saina Nehwal on Sunday said the triumph at the China Open Super Series Premier was one of her “toughest” and it showed that the hard work was paying off.

“I m very happy to win this title, my third in the season. It is one of the toughest. I have been working really hard for the last few months and I am extremely happy that my efforts bore fruit,” Saina told PTI.

“It has not been easy for me. Vimal sir (Kumar) helped me a lot and it is a huge victory and a great feeling to win the title in China,” she said.

Talking about her opponent Akane Yamaguchi of Japan, Saina said: “The Japanese girl is very good. She is young and she played very well. She did trouble me in the second game especially but I am happy I could prevail over her. She is extremely talented and will be a force to reckon in future.”

About her future tournaments, Saina said: “I am focused to do well in Hong Kong Open (November 18-23) next. I have won the tournament in 2010 and I am in good shape now. The confidence of this win will help me to do well.

Asked about Srikanth, Saina said: “I am extremely happy for Srikanth. His victory was amazing. It turned out to be a historic moment for Indian badminton.”

National coach Pullela Gopichand heaped praise on the winners.

Talking about Srikanth, Gopichand said: “If you look at his game, I think he played superbly. The quality of the match was fantastic, the way he pulled off the match is amazing. If you analyse his strokes, he missed out a 6-7 winners by close margin but he played smart and brave.”

Praising Saina, Gopichand said: “It was a good win. She played well. Two Indians winning in China Open is great news. I wish I could hear the national anthem there. I am missing it.”

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