Saina Nehwal fought long and hard to see off the challenge of Sung Ji Hyun to book her place in the semifinals of the India Open. Her reward is a match against the No.3 seed Li Xuerui in the final four in Delhi.
The No.2 seed has struggled to find her usual dominance on the court in the past few months, but with the Rio Olympics approaching all of the top players eyeing that gold medal will want to hit their straps and build some momentum.
Saina did not have to be at her best to beat her two opponents in the first and second rounds, but in the South Korean Sung, the Indian ran into a really tenacious opponent.
Coming off a title win in the New Zealand Open, Sung got off to the best start possible in her quarterfinal against Saina, winning the third of her three game points to take the first game 21-19. That win silenced the Siri fort Complex crowd, who had come in expecting another waltz through to the next round from Saina.
However, Saina is one of the best players in the world for a reason, and sensing a way through after Sung took treatment for an ankle problem, the Indian pressed ahead to take the second game 21-14 and with it level the match.
Saina, with Sung struggling for fitness as the sheer intensity of the rallies started getting to her, was now expected to ease through in the final game, but the South Korean battled on, coming back from a big deficit midway through the game to take it right to the end. Saina, with her parents watching from the stands, though, just had enough left in her locker to push through and seal her place in the semis.
Fatigue could be a factor when Saina faces Li Saturday, but then the Chinese is also coming off a hard-fought win in the quarterfinals over her compatriot Shixian Wang. Much like Saina, Li had to find all her reserves to beat Wang 22-20, 12-21, 21-17.
Where to Watch Live
The India Open semifinals begin at 2 p.m. IST (9.30 a.m. BST) with live coverage of the matches on Star Sports 4 and Star Sports HD4. The Saina vs Li Xuerui semifinal is the fourth match of the day. Viewers in India can also watch the semifinal action of the India Open via live streaming online on Starsports.com and Hotstar.