A gritty Saina Nehwal scripted a hard-fought straight-game win over former world champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan to enter the women's singles semifinals of the USD 350,000 Malaysia Masters at Kuala Lumpur Friday.
Seventh-seeded Saina, who had an 8-4 head-to-head record against Okuhara before Friday, fought back from 9-15 and 14-18 down in the two games to extend her dominance over the second-seeded Japanese with a 21-18 23-21 win in a 48-minute quarterfinal at the Axiata Arena.
The 28-year-old from Hyderabad, who had won the title in 2017 and was the runner-up in the 2011 edition, will face a tough test next when she faces three-time world champion Carolina Marin of Spain on Saturday.
Saina has defeated Marin five times and has lost to the Spaniard as many times in the last 10 meetings.
The match started on an even keel as both the shuttlers fought hard, moving together till 9-9. Okuhara registered six straight points to create a huge gap but Saina showed her mettle as she slowly erased the deficit and grabbed a 17-16 lead at one stage.
Okuhara made it 17-17 before Saina closed out the opening game by grabbing the remaining points.
The Indian was 4-2 up early on in the second game but Okuhara jumped to an 8-5 lead before Saina wrested an 11-9 advantage at the break.
After the interval, Saina led till 14-12 but Okuhara reeled off six points to take a comfortable 18-14 lead. But Saina again slowly started dominating the rallies and clawed her way back to 19-19.
Okuhara then squandered two game points before Saina converted the first match point that came her way to secure the semifinal berth.