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Swiss Open: Saina one win away from title

Saina Nehwal

Basel: Birthday girl Saina Nehwal celebrated the start of her 22nd year in the best possible fashion – with a straight-games demolition of Japan’s Minatsu Mitani that leaves her with one match to win in defense of her Swiss Open title.

It has been a comfortable journey to the finals so far for the world No.5 Indian, who was coming on the back of an ordinary season. She has won each of her four matches with ease, with only the second match going longer than she would’ve expected. Dutch veteran Judity Meulendijks took a game off her but was no match in the second and third, which Saina won 21-10 21-6.

The next round gave her a much-needed victory over a Chinese – world No.12 Liu Xin. That set up her semifinal against Minatsu Mitani, a little-known Japanese who is ranked No.33 in the world. The two have played once before – at the Thailand Open GP Gold in June, and Minastsu did give the Indian some trouble by taking the contest to three games.

But on Saturday, Saina was ruthless, polishing off the tie in 35 minutes. The Indian shot off to leads of 9-3 and 17-8 and never gave Minatsu a chance in the first game.

The second was relatively closer. Minatsu had the early lead of 6-3, but Saina caught up with her and went ahead 15-8. Minatsu, to her credit, didn’t give up and remained within sight, but 18 was the closest she could get.

On Sunday, Saina faces her biggest test of the last few months. Can she overcome her recent lack of form against the top Chinese and upset Wang Shixian? The two have split the two matches they have played, but both were back in 2010. They haven’t played each other in a year, and Shixian is right up there along with Wang Yihan as the world’s best player. If Saina can overcome the Chinese challenge, it will give her a huge boost of confidence ahead of the Olympics.

Meanwhile, in other matches, Korean veteran Lee Hyun Il upset the young Chen Long, while Chen Jin took revenge for a recent loss against Taufik Hidayat by dismissing him in straight games in the semifinal.

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