It was heartbreak for India as Japan entered the final of the Uber Cup here on Saturday evening. India blew a 2-0 lead as Japan bounced back to force the fifth and final Rubber in front of a partisan Siri Fort crowd. Japan will play China in the title round.
The hosts fielded Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu in the deciding doubles but India's best shuttlers, who rarely play doubles at the international level, expectedly failed as a team against the Japanese pair of Miyuki Maeda and Reika Kakiiwa. Saina and Sindhu lost 14-21, 11-21 in just 39 minutes.
This was the first time India were playing the semifinals of the Uber Cup. Having assured themselves a historic bronze on Thursday, India looked good to enter the final, but only just. India led 2-0 after Saina and Sindhu won their singles but Japan clawed back wining the first doubles against the seasoned Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa.
Olympic bronze medallist and India's No. 1 star Saina gave the hosts a fluent start by beating Minatsu Mitani 21-12, 21-13 but Sindhu was stretched to three games by Sayaka Takahashi. Sindhu lost her opening game 19-21 but won the second 21-18. The third game was a cliff-hanger with Sindhu winning a 72-minute contest 26-24.
The doubles started on a poor note for India's specialist pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa. They lost the first game to Misaki Matsumo 12-21 but showed nerves of steel to win the second 22-20. At one stage in the second game, the India duo squandered four game points but final managed to force the decider.
The third game went neck-and-neck till the Japanese broke free from 15-12 and steadily built on their lead. Jwala and Ashwini lost 16-21 as Japan cut India's lead to 2-1. The match lasted almost an hour but the Japanese pair looked fitter and mentally stronger against their experienced Indian opponents.
The fourth match, singles, brought India's PC Thulasi on stage. She lost the first game 14-21 to Eriko Hirose. The Japanese girl proved a stronger opponent as she won the second game 21-15 to win the match in 45 minutes. Japan drew level 2-2. It was a stunning turnaround by the Japanese in front of a partisan Indian crowd at Siri Fort.
India never bargained to play the fifth Rubber, a doubles. Singles specialists Saina and Sindhu teamed up against Miyuki Maeda and Reika Kakiiwa. Rarely have badminton fans seen this Indian combination.