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Saina & Co. script history, enter semi-finals in style

New Delhi: Indian women created history at the Siri Fort Sports Complex on Thursday night, when they reached the semi-finals of the Li Ning Uber Cup. This was the hosts’ best performance in the present format and the 3-0 victory over Indonesia also ensured that India earned their maiden bronze medal.

In the semi-finals to be played on Friday, India will take on Japan while defending champions China play Korea. Both the losing semi-finalists are entitled to the bronze medal.

The Indian victory, once again, was set up by their singles stars — Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. The doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa then finished the job at hand, to script a 3-0 win.

While Saina and Sindhu won the first two singles matches to put India 2-0 ahead, Jwala and Ashwini sealed the triumph with an emphatic win over Greysia Polli and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari 21-18, 21-18 in a battle that lasted 38 minutes.

Credit should go to Jwala and Ashwini for beating their much superior rivals, ranked ninth in the world, and not to allow the match to drag into the third singles and the second doubles. More matches might have helped the Indonesians to recover.

The Indian doubles pair played with great determination and played fine strokes to unsettle the opponents.

Though, in the end, the scoreline suggested that the victory was smooth and easy, there were some tense moments for India. Given their world rankings, Saina and Sindhu were expected to prevail. They did win, but not without a few moments of anxiety.

Playing against world No. 23 Lindaweni Fanetri, the Indian girl won 21-17, 21-10, but was trailing 7-15 in the first game.

While the crowd kept backing their favourite girl, Saina herself looked upset. She was seen looking towards coach Pullela Gopichand often, but managed to dig deep and win a series of points to take the lead at 17-16. Thereafter, Saina was firmly in control and won the next game with ease.

“There are times when you don’t start too well,” said Saina later. “It was one of those days. But I am happy that I could pull back from there. It showed that I am getting my confidence back,” added Saina, who was going through a bad patch earlier this season.

Saina, however, said she was not tensed. “I am happy that I would keep my focus even when I was trailing 7-15. I stopped looking at the scoreboard… Thankfully, I could stay focused.

“She is a very good player… She played well in the last two matches.

“Whatever her ranking is, she is an experienced player with tricky strokes. It is not easy to anticipate her strokes early in the match,” said Saina.

The best match of the day, however, was the one between Sindhu and Bellaetrix Manuputty. The Indian won a seesaw battle at 21-16, 10-21, 25-23 after thrice fumbling at the match point in the third game.

She won the first against the world’s 24th ranked player but committing too many unforced that cost her the second game.

Sindhu, a bronze medal winner in the World Championships, is known for being able to hold her nerves and play well at crucial moments, but on Thursday, she did look nervous when the two fought for every point in the deciding game.

Finally, when the Indonesian slammed the shuttle into the net to give Sindhu the victory, the Indian pumped her fist in the air to celebrate, her relief and joy being palpable.