India's top shuttler assured herself of at least a bronze after progressing to the women's singles semifinals, knocking out world no 5 Ratchanok Intanon at the 18th Asian Games, here today.
Saina fell behind 3-8 at the beginning in the opening game but found a way to beat the Thai player 21-18 21-16 in the quarterfinal, which lasted 42 minutes.
This is India's first medal in women's singles at the Asian Games. Syed Modi was the only Indian to win a medal at the Asian Games when he clinched the men's singles bronze at the 1982 edition.
Saina had beaten Ratchanok at the recent World Championship and also at the Indonesian Master at the same venue. She came into this match with a superior record with four wins in the last five meetings against the Thai.
She will next take on world no 1 Tai Tzu Ying, who knocked out Glasgow World Champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan 21-15 21-10 in the other 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.
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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.
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