So near and yet so far. After assuring themselves of a historic bronze in the Uber Cup on Thursday and raising further hopes with a 2-0 lead over Japan in the semi-finals on Friday, India went down 2-3 to end their run in the world team event.
Saina Nehwal had it easy. She barely needed 40 minutes to give India the lead. The world No 8 had a 3-2 head-to-head record against Minatsu Mitani. She made sure she retained the upper hand. Extremely fit and taking every shuttle early, Saina blasted to a 21-12, 21-13 victory.
“She (Mitani) has a few shots that can be very tricky but I’m just happy with my movement. It’s good that I’ve improved and beating top players,” said the 24-year-old. Mitani has a world ranking of 12.
PV Sindhu’s match against Sayaka Takahashi was a repeat of the quarter-final clash. There were a lot of gasps all around and finally deafening cheer as Sindhu fell down on court, tears streaming down her face to celebrate. It took her 72 minutes, six match points and a yellow card to win 19-21, 21-18, 26-24 on centre court.
The crucial doubles tie, which would either make or break the home squad, was left to specialists Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa. The recent Asian Championships bronze medallists were aware how much the win meant but after losing the first game 12-21 and coming back with a solid game to level scores at 22-20 (on their fifth game point), everything fell apart in the decider. While Ashwini’s solid smashes left the world No 4 pair Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi struggling, over all, the opponents played a smarter game – hitting straight at the Indians or making them retrieve the shuttles from different angles of the court – to triumph 21-16. It all went downhill after that.PC Thulasi and then doubles pair of Saina and Sindhu lost their matches and India bowed out.
“At a point it was anybody’s game. I was disappointed after losing the first game from 19-19. Even in the second when I was down my coach came to me during the change-over to say ‘don’t give up’.
That really encouraged me. I started playing for each point. Whether I won or lost didn’t even enter my mind,” said Sindhu, a big smile plastered on her face.
After failing to even qualify for the Uber Cup in the last edition, the India squad created magic assuring themselves of their first medal in the tournament.
However, the dream of making the final, well… better luck next time Team India.