Saina’s defeat knocks India out of women’s team event

Jakarta: An inconsistent Saina Nehwal saved four match points before losing to Nozomi Okuhara after PV Sindhu’s gritty win over world number one Japanese Akane Yamaguchi, as India crashed out of the Asian Games women’s team event today.

The Indian women’s team, which won a historic bronze in the last edition in Incheon, lost the quarterfinal to the top-seeded and the most formidable team in the world. It was always going to be a close affair between Sindhu and Yamaguchi but the Indian prevailed in the tight opening singles 21-18 21-19. Sindhu, who took 41 minutes to put India ahead.

N Sikki Reddy and Arathi Sunil then struggled to contain unforced errors and lost tamely 15-21 6-21 to Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota, allowing the Japanese to make it 1-1.

In the crucial second women’s singles, Saina made a dramatic comeback from nowhere and saved four match points in the second game, but eventually lost 11-21 25-23 16-21 after battling for one hour and 11 minutes.

Saina initially struggled to contain her unforced errors while Okuhara was disciplined. The Indian hit almost everything either over the line or on to the net but made a stunning comeback. She, though, could not take advantage of the momentum and again lost five points in a row from 16-16 in the decider to lose the match to Okuhara, who felt the heat towards the end but was helped by inconsistency from the Indian.

In the must-win fourth rubber, Sindhu and Ashwini Ponappa lost 13-21 12-21 to reigning Olympic champions Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, who were solid with their defense.

“It was a tough draw facing Japan in the first match. I was keen to give India a good start from my side. The doubles players also did well but the Japanese played very tactical game. Saina also gave her 100 percent, it was 16-16 in the third set and few points made the difference,” Sindhu told PTI.

“Somewhere down the line, the Japanese (Miaki and Ayaka) played good strategy, they made us made mistakes. The top-10 teams in the world are same standard, we can’t say they are tough or easy. Though each player is different.” Ponappa said though she does not play with Sindhu regularly, she was the best option to play with.

Sindhu was my pick. She is strong and hard smasher. We were confident of pulling off this win. We had played against Thailand in Uber Cup and had won the decider,” she said. Asked what made the difference despite having one of the top singles players by her side, Ponappa said, “It was defense”. “The defence in the singles and doubles is different. They played very smart. They had studied our game and played with good strategy. Also, the Japanese and Indonesians are very good with their defence.”