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Saina wastes four matchpoints, loses to Okuhara

sports Updated: Sep 29, 2018 00:15 IST

NEW DELHI Saina Nehwal literally gifted former world champion Nozomi Okuhara a victory as the Indian fifth seed failed to capitalise on as many as four matchpoints and lose the $600,000 Korea Open women’s singles quarterfinal three games in Seoul on Friday.

The Indian challenge at the BWF World Tour Super 500 tournament also came to an end with world No 10 Saina’s loss as the third seeded Japanese won 15-21, 21-15, 22-20 in 59 minutes at the SK Handball Arena.

This was Rio Olympics bronze medallist Okuhara’s third win on the trot against Saina as she also improved her head-to-head to 4-6. The 23-year-old Japanese will next take on compatriot and top seed Akane Yamaguchi, who beat Chinese eighth seed Gao Fangjie in two games, in the semi-finals.

Saina looked in prime form in the first game as elongated the rallies, making her opponent play at the back of the court. This forced Okuhara to make several uncharacteristic errors.

The Indian found her feet and from 14-11 raced away to 20-12. Okuhara managed to save three game points but Saina took the lead in the contest on her fourth attempt.

The momentum of the match got reversed in the second game as it was Okuhara who emerged the dominant player. With brilliant court coverage, the Japanese eased into the lead and looked at bagging the second game. Seemingly, Saina reduced her efforts, to save her energy for the deciding game, as the Japanese levelled the contest.

Saina did well to lead from the start in the third game and opened up big gaps, first at 10-6 and then at 16-10. A couple of body smashes backed by mistakes from Okuhara helped Saina reach matchpoint at 20-16.

However, inexplicably, Saina failed to convert any of the four matchpoints and hit wayward shots under pressure. She lost the next two points as well as Okuhara snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Overall, Okuhara won 58 of the 114 points played in the match with Saina claiming 56.

Momota becomes first Japanese man to top world rankings

(Reuters) - World champion Kento Momota has become the first Japanese man to top the Badminton World Federation rankings, replacing Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen at the top of the list for men’s singles.

Rio Olympic bronze medallist and 2017 world champion Axelsen slipped to third in the latest edition of the rankings, behind China’s Shi Yuqi.

Momota was suspended in April 2016 for visiting an illegal casino and missed the Olympics before returning to the tour at the Canadian Open in July last year.

The explosive 24-year-old won back-to-back tournaments in March and April this year before losing to Lee Chong Wei in the final of the Malaysia Open.

He beat Axelsen in the final of the Indonesia Open in July before winning the men’s singles title at world championships the following month in Nanjing.

Momota also won his home Japan Open earlier this month but finished a surprise runner-up behind Anthony Sinisuka Ginting at last week’s China Open, a second loss to the Indonesian in a few weeks after his reverse at the Asian Games in Jakarta.

First Published: Sep 28, 2018 23:55 IST