Badminton ace Saina Nehwal topped her group to march into the women's singles semi-finals while Kidambi Srikanth reached the last four stage despite losing his last men's singles round robin match at the BWF World Super Series Finals in Dubai on Friday.
World No.4 Saina clinched a pulsating three-game thriller against Bae Yeon Ju of Korea 15-21, 21-7, 21-17. Later in the day, World No.6 Srikanth gave third-ranked Jan O Jorgensen a hard time before going down 21-17, 12-21, 14-21.
However, both advanced to the knock-out stage. Jorgensen of Denmark finished first in Group B and Srikanth second. The fight for the two spots was tough with Jorgensen, Srikanth and Japan's Kento Momota winning two out of their three matches.
The world No. 4 Indian, a 2011 finalist, rallied from a game down to beat the No 8-ranked Bae 15-21, 21-7, 21-17 in the third and final women's singles round-robin match and top Group A.
In a contest between two players with similar styles, Saina came up with new-found aggression and did not shy away from attacking the net. She dictated the rallies and forced Bae into commiting errors. Her gameplan worked as she raced away to a 10-4 lead.
The Korean grabbed two points at the net and followed it up with a brilliant drop to narrow the gap, but soon Saina's deceiving return found Bae napping and gave her a 11-8 lead at the break.
After the breather, Bae tightened her defence and dug deep in the rallies. She forced the Indian into errors to not only claw back and catch up at 14-14 but also win the game when Saina hit wide.
In the second game, Saina again led 6-2 early on. She cut down on her smashes and tried to look for easy points. Bae, meanwhile, played some exceptional shots to narrow it down to 6-6, but also committed few unforced errors to allow the Indian reel off five straight points and lead 11-6 at the interval.
Leading 12-6, the duo got engaged in a gruelling rally, consisting of 32 shots but Saina had the last laugh. She continued her dominance after the break, playing patiently to roar back into the contest, bagging 15 of the last 16 points.
In the decider, Bae surged ahead to a lead of 5-1. Saina brought out her power smash to break the streak and then finished a long rally with a low lift at the net. Both the players tried to outdo each other but the Korean entered the interval with a slender 11-10 lead.
In a battle of attrition, Saina opened up a narrow lead of 15-13, courtesy her never say die attitude and brilliant net play. The Korean hit one wide and Saina then grabbed another point to lead 17-13. The Korean made it 16-19. Saina, however, didn't delay the inevitable further and produced two smashes to shut the door on the Korean.
Image: Saina Nehwal in action at the Dubai Super Series Final
Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images