Ace shuttlers Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu came up with spectacular victories, but the Indian women's team had to be satisfied with the bronze medal after it went down fighting 2-3 to five-time champions Japan in its maiden semi-finals appearance in the Uber Cup, on Friday.
Saina and Sindhu won the first two singles, but India failed to win the third and two doubles matches that followed and saw their hopes go up in smoke at the Siri Fort Sports complex, in Delhi.
Olympic bronze medallist Saina gave India a solid start, beating world No 12 Minatsu Mitani 21-12, 21-13 in 41 minutes.
World Championship bronze medallist Sindhu then displayed her brilliance with an edge-of-the seat 19-21, 21-18, 26-24 victory over world No 13 Sayaka Takahashi , in 72 minutes, to put India 2-0 ahead.
The world No 4 pair of Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, however, brought Japan back into the tie with a hard-fought 21-12, 20-22, 21-16 win over Commonwealth Games gold medallists Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa.
P C Thulasi then did her best but went down to 2011 All England Championships runner-up and world No 16 Eriko Hirose 14-21, 15-21 in the third singles as Japan made it 2-2.
It all boiled down to Saina and Sindhu to take India through. The inexperienced doubles pair, playing together only for the second time, however, lost 14-21, 11-21 to the world No 5 combo of Miyuki Maeda and Reika Kakiiwa.
Japan will take on China in Saturday's final.
China beat Korea 3-0 in the other semi-final.
Earlier, Saina dominated the proceedings and led 11-6 at the break. Things didn't change much thereafter as the Indian ace engaged the Japanese in rallies and waited for her to commit mistakes. She took the first game with a smart dribble at the net.
In the second game, Mitani opened up a 6-3 lead, but Saina soon surged to 9-8 with a couple of smashes and had her nose ahead at the break at 11-8. With a series of sharp cross-court smashes she extended the lead and sealed the issue when Mitani hit wide.
After Saina's victory, a lot was expected from Sindhu and the teen sensation delivered in style.
In the first game, world No 13 Sayaka opened up a 9-6 lead early on but Sindhu reduced the deficit and went into the break with a slender 11-10 lead. However, Sayaka clawed back with a mid-court smash at 16-16 and wrested the lead when Sindhu hit long.
In the end, Sindhu hit long and found the net to hand the game to Sayaka.
The second game was another fierce battle as both the shuttlers fought hard. Sayaka led 11-10 at the interval, but from 11-all the scores ran neck and neck till the Indian went up at 19-18. Sayaka then hit one into the net and the next one long as Sindhu took the game to the decider.
In the decider Saina mixed her drops and tosses well to lead 7-2, but Sayaka used her angled returns and soft lifts to regain the lead at 9-8 and going into the break 11-8.
But Sindhu capitalised on Sayaka’s series of unforced errors to not only claw back but also lead 17-13 after the breather. However, a couple of error in judging the shuttle by Sindhu and a brilliant rally which Sayaka ended with a cross-court flick helped her to draw parity at 17-17.
Sindhu then won a line review call and made a judgement call to move to 19-17 but few errors from the Indian and the left-hander reached the match point at 20-19. She saved a point and then earned a match-point with a soft tap.
What came next was a gruelling battle as Sindhu conceded four match-points before prevailing when the Japanese hit into the net.
Image: Saina Nehwal