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Orleans Masters: Saina Nehwal enters semifinals; Ashwini-Sikki produce major upset

By PTI

Indian ace Saina Nehwal eked out a thrilling three-game win over USA’s Iris Wang to advance to the women’s singles semifinals of the Orleans Masters badminton tournament here on Friday.

It is the first semifinals in two years for world no. 20 Saina, who is desperate to accumulate ranking points to make it to her four Olympics at the Tokyo Games. Her last semifinal appearance was in January 2019 in the Indonesia Masters 500 tournament which she had won.

The fourth seeded Indian, who had withdrawn from the All England Championships last week due to an injury, had to dug deep to script a 21-19 17-21 21-19 win over world no. 36 Wang in a gruelling quarterfinals match that lasted exactly an hour.

The London Olympic bronze medallist will face either Denmark’s Line Christophersen or compatriot Ira Sharma for a place in the finals at the Super 100 event, which is a part of BWF’s revised Olympic qualification events.

Commonwealth Games bronze medallists Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy, seeded eighth, also entered the last four stage of the women’s doubles competition after notching up a stunning 21-14 21-18 win over England’s third seeded duo of Chloe Birch and Lauren Smith.

The world no. 25 Indian pair will face top seeded Thailand combination of Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai.
The Indian men’s doubles pair of Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnu Vardhan Goud Panjala outwitted world no. 47 French duo of Christo Popov and Toma Junior Popov 21-17 10-21 22-20 in an hour and three minutes to make it to the semifinals.

The unheralded Indian duo will face England’s Callum Hemming and Steven Stallwood for a place in the final on Saturday.

The English pair had ended the campaign of Indian seventh seeds MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila 21-19 18-21 23-21 in the quarterfinals.

Saina dished out a compact game as she led 11-5 at the first interval but Wang narrowed the gap to 13-15 after the break. The American reeled off five straight points next to grab a 18-16 lead.

However, Saina sealed the opening game with four straight points.

The second game was a close affair as both the players fought hard before Saina eked out a slender 13-11 lead at the mid-game but a determined Wang pushed ahead and roared back into contest.

In the decider, Saina led 6-4 and then 12-8. The Indian kept her nose ahead despite Wang breathing down her neck. Saina grabbed three match points, wasted two of them before clinching the match.

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