Five-time champions Japan ended India's dream run in the Uber Cup by beating the hosts 3-2 in the semifinals. The Indian eves settled for the bronze medal in this team tournament at the Siri Fort Sports Complex in Delhi on Friday.
India started the tie splendidly, buliding a 2-0 lead by winning the first two singles, but Japan crawled back in the rubber by beating Indian doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa in the first doubles.
In the third singles, PC Thulasi failed to put up a fight against her much higher-ranked Japanese opponent and went down in straight games. India fielded star shuttlers Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu in the second doubles, but the pair failed to clinch the tie.
World number eight Saina easily outclassed her opponent Minatsu Mitani 21-12, 21-13 in the first singles. Saina was never put under pressure by the world number 12 and she displayed relentless control and aggression to put India 1-0 up in the semis.
"Mitani is a tricky player, she has got those shots which can make player go here and there, I am happy with the way I am moving in the tournament," Saina said after the match. "It is good that I am beating top players, it is a good sign."
World number 11 Sindhu inflated India's lead to 2-0 by winning the second singles against Sayaki Takahashi in a nail-bitter. After losing the first game 21-19, Sindhu won the second 21-18 to force the decider. Takahashi saved four match points in the third game, while Sindhu saved one to clinch the clash 26-24.
India looked set to register another upset in the tournament as Jwala and Ashwini took to court for the first doubles. The Indian pair, after losing the first game against world number four Misaki Matsumoto and Ayaka Takahashi, clinched the second to force the decider.
The Indian duo played a close third game against the world number four Japanese pair, but Matsumoto-Takahashi steadily built a lead, as the Indians started to make mistakes. The Japanese pair clinched the match 21-12, 20-22, 21-16.
Japan levelled the tie at 2-2 when world number 19 Eriko Hirose overpowered young Thulasi in the third singles, as she easily went down 21-14, 21-15 in just 45 minutes. Singles specialists Saina and Sindhu played the deciding rubber against Miyuki Maeda and Reika Kakiiwa, but they failed to put any fight, losing 21-14, 21-11.
Even after losing the semifinals Indian team created history by winning a medal in the Uber Cup team championship for the first time. "We enjoyed a lot last night because it is the first time in history that we reached the semifinals. This is something different all of us had done. So it was a great time for enjoyment for us," Saina said.