Saina stuns fourth seed Wang; one step from medal rounds(Second lead)

August 11th, 2008 - 7:59 pm ICT by IANS  

By V. Krishnaswamy
Beijing, Aug 11 (IANS) Saina Nehwal may well prove to be the dark horse in the Indian Olympic contingent. The shy 18-year-old from Hyderabad pulled off the biggest upset of the women’s singles badminton competition, knocking out fourth seed and World No. 6 Wang Chen in the pre-quarter finals Monday. World No. 15 Saina shocked the 2007 World Championships runner-up Wang 21-19, 11-21, 21-11 in 52 minutes at the Beijing University of Technology Gymnasium.

The China-born Hong Kong girl became the highest seed to be knocked out so far.

Saina must have found the win sweeter as it came in the presence of a high profile audience. Apart from Denmark’s royal family - Crown Prince Frederik, Crown Princess Mary and Princess Benedikte - there was also Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates, Malaysia’s Sports Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and a whole lot of International Olympic Committee members watching the shuttlers in action Monday.

The win put Saina into the quarter finals and just one match away from moving into medal contention. She will now clash with World No. 21 Maria Kristin Yulianti of Indonesia, who herself stunned sixth seed Tine Rasmussen of Denmark 18-21, 21-19, 21-14 in another 57-minute cliffhanger. Tine is the 2008 Malaysia Open and All England Champion.

Should Saina get past Yulianti, she could also get her wish of playing a Chinese in China in the Olympics. If Saina beats Yulianti, she could run into defending champion and second seed Zhang Ning of China, who beat Korean Jaeyoun Jun 21-11, 21-12.

Saina, who had lost both her two previous clashes to the Hong Kong shuttler, played a smart game and capitalised on the impatience of her higher-ranked opponent.

“I had no expectations because this was my first Olympics. I just wanted to play my best and enjoy the atmosphere. Getting into the Olympic quarter-final is something I would have never dreamt of earlier,” she said.

Doha Asian Games gold medallist Wang admitted it was her impatience that cost her the match. “I was impatient and too eager to win. In the first game when my score was 16-19 I knew I had a chance to win (first) game.”

Wang, who played for China before 1999 when she came to Hong Kong for a knee operation and decided to stay on, said, “I regret because this is my last Olympic Games as I am already 32 years old. I expected to be in the top eight, but it’s a pity I could not get there.”

Saina, who is backed by the Mittal Sports Foundation, and trained by former All England champion Pullela Gopichand, who is also here, showed great maturity as she revealed her gameplan.

“I did not want to stretch myself in the second game once Wang got an early lead. So I let her win and gave it my best in the third. I wanted to make her play slowly, because she likes to play fast.”

Winner of the Philippines Open in 2006 and the first Indian woman to win a badminton Grand Prix, Saina succeeded in slowing down the game and frustrating Wang.

Saina got off the blocks in a flash taking a 4-1 lead in the first game before Wang bounced back to pocket four points in a row and put her nose ahead. It was a see-saw battle from there on as neither player was ready to concede an inch.

Saina was up 12-10 but Wang again took five successive points to lead 15-12. Wang was looking to wrap up the game at 19-16 but Saina had other plans. The Indian turned on the heat pocketing the next five points to shut out Wang and take a 1-0 lead.

Stung by the reversal, Wang came back hard and did not give the Indian much chance in the second game, wrapping it up 21-11 in just 14 minutes and took the match to the decider.

Saina, who admitted to easing off in the latter stages of the second game to conserve energy, then raised her game and opened up a 6-0 lead in the third game. Wang, under pressure, started making errors as Saina went up 12-4 and 15-7. From there on it was a matter of time before Saina pulled off the biggest win of her career.

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