JAKARTA: Olympic medallists PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal today headed for a gold medal showdown at the 18th Asian Games after their quarterfinal victories ensured India’s first ever women’s singles medals at the Continental event.
First it was London bronze medallist Saina, who ended a 36-year-old wait for an individual medal after locking at least a bronze following a 21-18 21-16 win over world number five Ratchanok Intanon in a 42-minute quarterfinal.
Rio silver medallist Sindhu then fought past world number 12 Nitchaon Jindapol 21-11 16-21 21-14 in the other quarterfinal.
The last Indian to win an individual medal at the Asian Games was legendary Syed Modi, who won a men’s singles bronze, way back in 1982 at New Delhi.
India has won eight badminton medals at the Asian Games and six of them are in team events and one in men’s doubles.
In the semifinals, Saina faces world no 1 and top seed Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei, while Sindhu will take on either China’s Chen Yufei or world no 2 Akane Yamaguchi of Japan.
Commenting on the historic medals assured, Sindhu said she is hungry for more.
“It’s great (that medals are assured) moment but it’s not over yet. It should be the best and not just a medal. May be a gold that’s how I feel,” said world no 3 Sindhu.
On an all-Indian final looming, Sindhu said, “It will be very good for Indian badminton, two players in the final, hopefully, it will happen.”
Interestingly, Saina and Sindhu had clashed at the finals of the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast in April with the former emerging victories.
Talking about the second-game lapse, Sindhu said she was nervous and made easy errors.
“I felt I could have finished it in two sets but I made easy errors and then I got nervous, my stroke were not coming in the second game. Due to my mistakes, I gave her the second set. I should not think that if first game is easy, second will also be easy,” she said.
While Sindhu ran away with the first game, Jindapol made it little tough for the Indian in the second game and thrice held the lead.
Trailing 13-16, Sindhu found winners on either side of the court to make it even but Jindapol again created a four-point lead with very calculated smash shots and won the game easily to roar back into the contest.
In the decider, Sindhu trailed 4-7 with Jindapol spraying winners but the Indian won seven points in a row to give herself a four-point cushion. There was no change in script after that as Sindhu ran away with the match.
Earlier, Saina fell behind 3-8 at the beginning but found a way to beat the Thai player, whom she had beaten at the recent World Championship in Nanjing and also at the Indonesian Master at the same venue.
Saina said she was not aware who won the last individual medal. “We were actually discussing that. We did not know. Gopi sir said keep the phone away,” said the world no 10 Indian.
She came into this match with a superior record with four wins in the last five meetings against the Thai.
“She was playing strong and I knew she will challenge me today. I was taking her seriously, she had beaten Sung Ji Hyun in the previous match and first time I saw her playing well against a rally player,” Saina said.
Talking about her tactics after falling behind in the opening game, Saina said, “I was not moving that well initially but after 12-3 I opened up and I started picking up those tough shots. “Then one-two rallies happened and there I saw her getting tired but she was very tough. She was playing attacking.”
Saina said the deafening cheers of the crowd also made it challenging for her.
“She had the lead, I had the good record against her, crowd was shouting (for Indonesian player on adjacent court), so many things were playing in my mind. You could not hear the shuttle (due to noise), you have to be alert.”
The London Olympics bronze medallist Indian will next take on Tai Tzu Ying, who knocked out 2017 World Champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan 21-15 21-10 in another quarterfinal. World number three PV Sindhu will also take on a Thai player in the last-eight as she is up against world number 12 Jindapol Nitchaon.
Though Saina looked in good nick and rhythm, unforced errors pegged her back 1-5 and 3-8 at one stage.
With handy lead in pocket, Ratchanok tried to be deceptive with service but lost points. However, Saina again netted the shuttle to trail 3-9. The Indian had no option but to play aggressive and that too resulted in unforced errors, taking the first break trailing 3-11.
Ratchanok used the drop shots quite effectively on Saina’s backhand side. As Saina had to stretch to reach to the shuttle, Rathanok found easy winners on her weak returns.
Saina, though found the way to make a comeback and negated the strategy by hitting deep and angled returns, reducing the deficit to 15-17. Ratchanok netted a return at 18-all and for the first time Saina led in the opening game.
The Thai hit a backhand return over the line to give Saina her first game point, which she converted when Ratchanok left a shuttle and it fell inside the line.
Saina was all fired up in the second game and always had lead in hand. Though the Thai hit a few winners on the backhand side of Saina, the Indian had control over the game.
She led 16-12 and closed the match in her favour when Ratchanok hit a backhand wide and Saina found a winner on the next point.