Saina tames Okuhara; Srikanth exits

Saina tames Okuhara; Srikanth exits

Saina Nehwal of India hits a return against Nozomi Okuhara of Japan in their women's singles match at the Malaysia Masters badminton tournament in Kuala Lumpur. AFP Photo

Saina Nehwal scripted a hard-fought straight-game win over former world champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan to enter the women's singles semifinals but a fighting Kidambi Srikanth crashed out of the USD 350,000 Malaysia Masters here on Friday.

Seventh-seeded Saina, who had a 8-4 head-to-head record against Okuhara before Friday, fought back from 9-15 and 14-18 down in the two games to extend her dominance over the second-seeded Japanese with a 21-18, 23-21 win in a 48-minute quarterfinal at the Axiata Arena.

"Again a great match with @nozomi_o11 .. nice to b on the winning side ..21-18 , 23-21 #quarterfinals #malaysiamasterssuper500," tweeted Saina after the match.

The 28-year-old from Hyderabad, who had won the title in 2017 and was a runner-up in the 2011 edition, will face a tough test next when she faces three-time world champion Carolina Marin of Spain on Saturday.

Saina has defeated Marin five times and has lost to the Spaniard as many times in the last 10 meetings.

However, Srikanth squandered a one-game advantage to go down 23-21, 16-21, 17-21 to fourth seed Korean Son Wan Ho in the men's singles quarterfinals that lasted an hour and 12 minutes.

The women's singles match started on an even keel as both Saina and Okuhara fought hard, moving together till 9-9. Okuhara registered six straight points to create a huge gap but Saina showed her mettle as she slowly erased the deficit and grabbed a 17-16 lead at one stage.

Okuhara made it 17-17 before Saina closed out the opening game by grabbing the remaining points.

The Indian was 4-2 up early on in the second game but Okuhara jumped to a 8-5 lead before Saina wrested a 11-9 advantage at the break.

After the interval, Saina led till 14-12 but Okuhara reeled off six points to take a comfortable 18-14 lead. But Saina again slowly started dominating the rallies and clawed her way back to 19-19.

Okuhara then squandered two game points before Saina converted the first match point that came her way to secure the semifinal berth.