Saina Nehwal became only the second Indian to reach the final of the World Junior badminton championship when she beat local hope Youn Joo Bae is straight games in the semifinals in Incheon, South Korea, on Friday.
The 16-year-old saved a gamepoint in the opening game and then overturned a two-point deficit in the second to win 25-23, 21-13 in 35 minutes. She now faces Asian champion and top seed Yihan Wang of China in Saturday’s summit clash.
Nine-time national champion Aparna Popat is the only other Indian to reach this far in the prestigious event. Popat achieved the feat 10 years ago in Denmark where she went down to Yu Hua in the finals.
Saina, who took the world by surprise by winning the four-star Philippines Open earlier this year, adopted an attacking approach in the semifinals and the moved paid off. "I knew she was a rally player,” the Hyderabadi said on phone from Incheon. "Though I was on guard and willing to play a long match, I went for the kill every time I got a chance.”
The Indian is very aware that her next opponent is not a pushover, despite her international senior ranking of 103 as compared to Saina’s 32. In fact, the 18-year-old Wang upset world champion Xie Xingfang in straight sets to win the invitational World Cup in Indonesia in the run up to this tournament.
"She (Wang) has all the strokes and is a great mover on the court,” Saina said. "I have not made any special plans for her. I am just going to play my game.”
Saina admits that relatively less pressure than last year has helped her perform better in this championship. "I am not the top seed here,” she said. “I am the 14th favourite. That helps me play without pressure.”