Jakarta, Luck deserted Saina Nehwal at the crucial moment and with that Indian women badminton team’s hope of Asian Games medal evaporated as they lost to formidable Japan 1-3 here on Monday.
PV Sindhu waged a lone battle but that was not enough to stop the Japanese from overrunning the Indians in the quarter-finals of the team event.
Indians flattered to deceive in this crucial tie. They started in a whirlwind fashion with Sindhu over powering world number one Akane Yamaguchi 21-18,21-19 in a 41-minute thriller to give her side a 1-0 lead.
Sindhu in the process did an encore as she had defeated Yamaguchi in the recent World Championship.
However Indians joy was short lived as Japanese rallied back to level the tie 1-1 by winning the doubles. N Sikki Reddy and Arathi Sunil failed to combine well and caved in without much resistance 15-21 6-21 to Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota, (1-1)
Much was expected from Saina Nehwal but the former World number 3 failed to regain lead for India and went down fighting to Nozomi Okuhara 11-21, 25-23, 16-21 in a marathon 71 minute encounter (1-2).
Saina put up an uneven display and despite saving four match points she could not put it across Okuhara. The Indian struggled against the Japanese as she found it tough to contain her unforced errors while Okuhara looked focused and disciplined.
However after losing the first game rather easily, Saina made a remarkable comeback. To make it 1-1. She could not take advantage of the momentum and lost five points in a row from 16-16 in the decider to lose the match to Okuhara, who felt the heat towards the end but was helped by the Indian’s inconsistency.
Okuhara was excellent in retrieving. There was just one point in the entire first game, which Saina dominated, and that too Okuhara prolonged with her amazing recovery and movement on the court.
The Japanese held her nerves Saina kept committing unforced errors. And trailed 11-19. A smart winner from Okuhara sealed the opening game.
Okuhara stayed strong with her returns and court movement, racing to a 7-1 lead. Saina got her second point only when Okuhara committed a rare unforced error. From 7-15, Saina claimed five straight points and then made it 20-20 from nowhere.
Saina then smashed into the net to give Okuhara her fourth match point but saved it with another down the line smash. She had her first game point at 23-22 but hit long. She finally made it 1-1 when Japanese failed to return
With better control over her shots and agile movement, the Indian kept troubling the Japanese. She soon made it 16-16. However from there Saina lost five points in a row. At 16-17, she left the shuttle, thinking it was out, but it fell in.
Saina hit a smash out on the right side of Okuhara, looking for a winner, conceding a crucial three-point lead.
Okuhara made sure there was no drama in the end and heaved a sigh of relief when Saina’s backhand return met with the net.
Then In the must-win fourth match, Sindhu and Ashwini Ponappa lost 13-21 12-21 to Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi,.
The Indian women’s team, which won a historic bronze in the last edition in Incheon, lost the quarterfinal to the top-seeded and the most formidable team in the world.