Saina Nehwal’s quest to reach her second straight world championships final was ended by Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in the semi-finals on Saturday. The 12th seeded Indian, who enjoyed a 6-1 lead in their head-to-head record prior to this match, won the first game comfortably and looked set to make it seven wins out of eight, before the Japanese seventh seed turned the match around.

Okuhara, the Rio Olympics bronze medallist, came back from losing the first game 12-21 to win the next two 21-17 and 21-10. The 22-year-old now awaits the winner of the second semi-final between Rio silver medallist PV Sindhu and China’s Chen Yu Fei.

Both players were coming into the match after gruelling quarter-final matches, both of which went over an hour in length. Okuhara, in fact, was on court for an hour and 33 minutes before she could oust Rio Olympics gold medallist Carolina Marin. Nehwal had played 19 fewer minutes in her three-game quarter-final win over Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour and looked the fresher out of the two in the early exchanges.

The former world No 1 had a spring in her step right from the beginning and made the Japanese run all over the court in the first game, comfortably wining it in the end. Okuhara looked tired and on the verge of giving up, before she somehow found some extra energy and will-power in the second game. It was a tight affair as both players refused to relent and exchanged long rallies. It was Okuhara’s turn to make Nehwal run as the match progressed, even as she forced a decider by taking the second game narrowly 21-17.

The third game started with the two players going neck and neck till 3-3 before Okuhara ran away with the match. She won nine straight points to make it 9-3 in her favour and it was Nehwal’s turn to look fatigued. Some more long rallies followed but Okuhara came out on top in all of them, even as Nehwal eventually gave up. Okuhara took the decider comfortably 21-10 to book her place in the final of the world championships for the first ever time.

Nehwal, a silver medallist in the previous edition in 2015, will have to settle for bronze this time.