Rio Olympics Bronze medalist Nozomi Okuhara edged past Saina Nehwal 12-21, 21-17, 21-10 in a classic three-game encounter to reach the final of the Badminton World Championship. Nehwal dominated the first game but the Japanese scripted a remarkable comeback to win the next two games in 73 minutes.
Saina outplays Okuhara 21-12 to take the first game
Saina drew the first blood in the day as she hit a perfect drop shot to bring Okuhara closer to the net and then hit a smash on her return to take a 1-0 lead, but the Japanese didn’t give away easy points after that as they share the first four points. However, Nehwal kept the Rio Olympics bronze medalist on her toes as Okuhara failed to understand Saina’s game play to hand the Indian an 8-2 lead in no time. A brilliant inside-out smash gave Okuhara her first point in seven attempts but a long drive in the next rally means that the six point advantage is intact. Two unforced errors from Saina reduces the deficit to just four but in the next rally she put in a long drive that caught the baseline. A cross court smash by Okuhara in the next serve took her tally for the game to six but she appeared to be struggling as the Indian was leading the game at 10-6 and the London Olympics bronze medalist entered the mid-game interval with an 11-6 lead. As much as Saina was brilliant with her smashes and court coverage, the Japanese was struggling with her game as she failed to contain the misjudgement as in a long 29-shot rally, Okuhara misreads the length of Saina drive as the shuttle caught the inside part of the line that gave the Indian 13-6 lead and soon the score reached 15-6. However, Saina became a little lazy after that which allowed the 22-year old to score four points before Saina outplayed the youngster to gain two more points. The Hyderabadi lass continued her brilliant drop shots to which the Japanese literally didn’t have any clue as the Indian took the first game 21-12.
Okuhara wins the second game to force the game to the decider
In the second game, Okuhara tried to up her game as she took the first point of the second game and then with a thumping smash on the next point, she won two back-to-back points. If that was not enough, an error in the serve by Saina meant Okuhara raced away to a 4-0 lead. But, then the Indian started working on her plans and the next two points on offer. Although Okuhara didn’t give any chance to Nehwal, the Indian played to her strength as she took another two points that took the game to 6-4 (in the favour of Okuhara). Saina tried her best to not let Okuhara go out of her sights and forced Okuhara to hit the shuttle wide and win the point. In the next point, Okuhara again hit the shuttle way behind the baseline to concede the point as Saina then trailed by 6-8. Saina continued to play her attacking game and snatched the momentum from the Japanese, who started to struggle from thereon and leveled the game at 10-all before Okuhara taking a point just at the stroke of the mid-game interval to take a one-point lead as the score reached 11-10. Two uncharacteristic unforced errors - one straight at the net and the other wide - from Saina hand the Japanese a three-point lead at 13-10. However, the Japanese gave away the next three point at the net bringing the scores level at 15-15. The duo kept on exchanging the points as the game again levelled at 17-17. However, Saina failed to gain any more points after that as the Japanese won the next four points to take the second game 21-17 and forced the game to a decider.
The Japanese wins the final game to enter final
Okuhara drew the first blood as Saina's angled drop shot was just wide of the line but Nehwal soon won the next three points on offer to lead the game at 3-1, but Okuhara fantastically made a comeback as she won the next five points to take the game to 6-3. The Japanese took the benefit of Saina’s tiredness as she used the whole court perfectly to take the game to 10-3. Although Saina finally managed to secure a point, Okuhara entered the mid-game interval with complete control of the match with a lead of 11-4. A brilliant inside-out smash gave Saina two back-to-back points for the first time since the opening rallies of this game, but the Japanese scored two more points to take the game to 13-7. In the next point, Okuhara produced a consummate finish with deception on a push down the line, on the forehand side to take the game to 14-7 before taking a ten-point lead at 17-7. Although Saina managed to get two points there, that was not enough to stop the Japanese to win the third game by 21-10. Along with the win, Okuhara became the first Japanese player to enter in the final of the World Badminton Championship.