| Saina Nehwal, in New Delhi, on Friday |
New Delhi: Spirited display by India could not hide the fact that there is lack of depth in the squad as they went down 2-3 to Japan in the Uber Cup semi-finals, here on Friday night.
In the final on Saturday, Japan would take on China. The Thomas Cup final will be between Malaysia and Japan.
Cheered by the home crowd, who backed the Indian girls throughout the five-hour battle, the hosts took a 2-0 lead only to lose the next three matches to Japan, who had a more balanced squad.
After Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu continued to excel by winning the first two singles, the visitors won the next two doubles and one singles ties.
The problem with India was that no one could follow up on the good work done by Saina and Sindhu. The doubles team of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa did a superb job against Indonesia in the quarter-finals.
But on Friday, despite trying their best, they could not match up to the world’s fourth rank pair of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi. The Indians lost 12-21, 22-20, 16-21 in 59 minutes.
No one expected 65th ranked PC Thulasi to beat Eriko Hirose in the third singles. Thulasi put up a valiant fight, but lost to Hirose 14-21, 15-21 in 45 minutes and the Japanese were strongly back in contention.
With no real doubles player available to counter the formidable doubles combinations of the Japanese, coach Pullela Gopichand once again gambled on his star singles players – Saina and Sindhu. But pairing them up did not pay dividends against Miyuki Makeda and Reika Kakiiwa, who proved to skilful. The Indian pair lost 14-21, 11-21.
Despite Saina and Sindhu’s memorable wins in the singles, what turned the match in Japan’s favour was the first doubles. Unlike the matches against Indonesia and Thailand, Jwala and Ashwini were not at their best, leaving too many gaps in their defence. The Japanese gleefully took the advantage of their follies.
“It was all my fault,” a crestfallen Jwala said after the doubles. “Strategically, we went wrong and I was mainly responsible for it. Ashwini was in fine form… I missed crucial shots at the net. Perhaps I was thinking too much. That made all the difference,” said the senior partner of the 36th ranked pair.
However, India left the court with their heads high. Never before have they made it to the semi-finals and raised the hopes of reaching the final.
Saina was in remarkable form as she defeated world No. 12 Minatsu Mitani 21-12, 21-13 in only 41 minutes. The Indian looked supremely confident and was at her aggressive best.
She went for the kill early and caught her Japanese opponent on the wrong foot at crucial times. Never for a moment could one feel that Saina had lost to Minatsu in their previous two meetings.
Later, Saina said her current form was better than what it was during the London Olympics in 2012. “I think I am playing better now. When I look back at my matches, I feel I have improved a lot. You can win a match in three games. But that I am winning at 10 and 12 speaks of my improvement,” she said.
Saina said Minatsu was not an easy player to beat. “She has got the strokes that can change the course of a match. You have to be cautious,” she explained later.
After Saina made it 1-0, Sindhu encountered a tough battle from world No. 13 Sayaka Takahashi but managed to win 19-21, 21-18, 26-24 in one hour 12 minutes.