London: Saina Nehwal scripted history as she became the first Indian to reach the semi-finals of Olympic badminton while compatriot Parupalli Kashyap went down in an impressive show in the men’s quarters here Thursday.
Saina defeated Danish Tine Baun 21-15, 22-20 in 39 minutes to reach the last four of women’s singles at the Wembley Arena.
A little later Kashyap lost his quarterfinal match against World No.2 and top seed Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia 19-21, 11-21 in 47 minutes in a spirited show. Lee is a silver medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Saina took off in excellent form with her cross-court and traditional sliced smashes. The fourth seed forced Baun to make several errors in the first game with precise volleys on which the Dane erred. In the process, Saina also improved her head-to-head record against Baun 4-3.
Saina, a Pullela Gopichand protégé, gained a solid advantage (16-9) aided by some exquisite deft touches at the net.
The 33-year-old Dane, an old foe of Saina, tried fighting back but the Hyderabadi proved too good and did not allow Baun to keep her serve.
Saina, 22, with her brilliant on-court movement and deep lunges for the shuttle earned a 20-13 advantage and won the game on her fourth game point.
Baun, determined to fight back, put up a much better show in the second game which almost went in her favour.
The second game saw a close and exciting see-saw battle where Saina’s body shots and Baun’s smashes were both working and neither player could completely dominate the opponent.
Initially it looked as if Baun would take the lead in the game with a 10-7 advantage but Saina clawed back winning six consecutive points to take the lead (13-10).
The fifth seeded Dane suddenly found spring in her legs when it appeared that Saina would ease through. Baun first levelled the score at 15-15, and then went ahead 18-15.
In no time, Baun reached game point (20-17). But Saina was in her elements and rallied back saving three game points and drew level at 20-all.
Saina next faces World No. 1 and top seed Yihan Wang of China. The Indian has never beaten in her previous five encounters.
A little later in the men’s singles, Kashyap displayed excellent skills against Lee, who the Indian was facing for the second time. Kashyap had lost to the Malaysian in Denmark last year.
Kashyap was in his prime from in the first game as he led from the start in a neck-and-neck game where both players excelled. The World No.21 displayed brilliant form and beautiful reflexes to match the high-paced game of Lee.
Long rallies were the benchmark of the match marked with fabulous body and cross-court smashes by both shuttlers. The Indian took an immediate lead at the start. The Hyderabadi looked dominant as he took an excellent lead of 10-6 against the Malaysian.
The Indian was aggressive and put in a lot of energy behind his smashes. Kashyap lunged to reach the net, which is a regular ploy used by the top seed Lee against his opponents where he tires them out. The Malaysian conserved his energy and stayed with the fast-paced Indian and levelled the scoreline at 15-15.
The Indian, who turns 26 in a week, excited with his lead against one of the world’s best players, started tiring himself out trying too many things.
Towards the end of the game, Kashyap’s line judgement was precise which made him earn crucial points putting him at an advantageous position (19-18).
However, Lee showed his experience and took the game in 27 minutes with a couple of deceiving shots.
Kashyap was only a shadow of himself in the second game where he could not keep up with the Malaysian giving away a 4-9 lead and in no time Lee extended his lead to 17-8 in no time.
A fatigued Kashyap was erratic and gave away points to the World No.2 who sealed the game in 17 minutes. Lee next faces China’s Chen Long in the semis.