Saina Nehwal (WR #10) vs (1) Tai Tzu Ying (WR #1)
Head-to-head: Tai leads 12-5
Last meeting: Tai defeated Nehwal 21-17, 21-14 at the 2018 Asian Games in August
Nehwal’s last win over Tai: 2013 Swiss Open
The fact that Saina Nehwal last beat Tai Tzu Ying five years ago does not bode well for the Indian, nor does the fact that the Chinese Taipei star has already got the better of the London Olympic bronze medallist four times this year.
Saina has not been able to even sneak a game from the World No. 1 in their four meetings this season. In fact, the last time that Nehwal managed to take a game off Tai was back in 2015.
Clearly, this is not a match-up that Saina enjoys. Tai’s finesse and variety have always posed a problem for the Indian, who has even admitted that she finds it hard to read the Asian Games champion’s game.
Having said that, one thing that Nehwal always does well is put up a fight no matter how invincible the opponent might seem. And this week in Denmark, she has shown plenty of courage and resolve in making her way to the final of this tournament for the second time in her career. The 2012 winner had to dig deep and bring forth her champion qualities in fighting past Cheung Ngan Yi 20-22, 21-17, 24-22 in the first round.
Her next two matches were against Japanese superstars -- Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara -- both of whom have been a thorn for Saina in recent times. And Nehwal put up such confidence-boosting performances against both.
In the quarter-final against Okuhara, she rebounded from a slow start to absolutely take the match away from the former world champion before going on to win in three. In the semi-finals, she was the heavy favourite against the reigning world junior champion Gregoria Mariska Tunjung, and she thoroughly lived up to the expectations, notching up an effortless straight-game win over the Indonesian.
Throughout those four wins, she has given ample proof that she is moving very well on the court. The ease in her footwork has given her many options to keep varying the placement of the shuttle and surprise the opponent. She hasn’t looked fatigued at all, which has been a cause for concern in a few of the tournaments this year.
With a spring in her step and oodles of self-belief, Nehwal has simply turned back the clock, reaching a final on the BWF World Tour for the first time since the Indonesia Masters in January. In between, she did reach and win another final, which was at the Commonwealth Games. But obviously, the quality of competition is even higher on the BWF circuit, which speaks volumes about how much conviction Saina has right now in herself and her game.
Nehwal would hope to draw a lot of inspiration from her wins in Odense to take on an opponent as tough and unbreakable as Tai. Nehwal would need to keep her attacking game going to rob Tai of chances of dictating the proceedings, something she has failed to sustain in her previous few matches with the planet’s best player.
Tai herself has not been in impeccable form since the Asian Games. Early defeats at the Japan Open and the China Open and struggles against lower-ranked opponents at the Chinese Taipei Open indicate that. She has also dropped a game to Chen Yufei this week that further proves she is not at her flawless best.
Saina needs to ensure that she does not concede an early lead to Tai as doing that would make it difficult for her to make a comeback against someone so wily and intelligent on the court. She needs to make good use of her attacking shots which can make a dent in Tai’s confidence level and, in turn, help the Indian.
Here's all the information you need to know
Tournament name: Danisa Denmark Open 2018
Location: Odense, Denmark
Category: Super 750
Date: Sunday, October 21, 2018
Time: Saina Nehwal vs (1) Tai Tzu Ying at 12 noon local time/3.30pm IST
Broadcast: Live telecast on Star Sports 1 and Star Sports HD1
Live updates: On Sportskeeda