Despite being outplayed in the first game, Nozomi Okuhara staged an exquisite fightback to beat PV Sindhu 12-21, 21-15, 21-13 on Friday to enter the semi-finals of the prestigious All England Open Championships, where she will meet top seed Chen Yufei.

Sindhu started all guns blazing in the opening game and looked set to book her place in the last four before Okuhara upped the ante in the remaining two games to complete a remarkable turnaround in a match that lasted 68 minutes.

PV Sindhu vs Nozomi Okuhara as it happened: Okuhara wins to reach SF

Sindhu did not allow Okuhara to settle into any kind of rhythm in the opening game and picked up quick points, a strategy that served her well at the time. The former world champion was also culpable of making too many unforced errors. Sindhu wasted no time in taking advantage of a massive gap she had created, winning the opener by a big margin. It was reminiscent of Sindhu’s domination in the Basel final in 2019 where she steamrolled the same opponent before winning the historic gold. Okuhara was not in the lead even once in that opening game.

Sindhu started well to lead 7-2 with a precise shot at the backline. The Japanese narrowed the gap to 5-8 before Sindhu unleashed a shot at the back and then grabbed another point when Okuhara found the net. Sindhu entered the break with a five-point cushion.

The Indian continued to dominate the proceedings after the breather, putting her opponent under pressure to gather points at will. Okuhara got a few points with her straight and cross court smashes but those were too few as Sindhu zoomed to 18-9. With Okuhara’s weak returns going to the nets, Sindhu had a massive 20-11 advantage. The Indian quickly sealed the opening game when Okuhara erred again.

Interestingly, the second game saw Okuhara find reserves of grit and was leading for the first time in the match. Sindhu’s attacks lacked imagination and verve while the Japanese found her groove, getting the Indian involved in long, flatter rallies. Sindhu’s returns too, left a lot to be desired. Okuhara also cut out any point-scoring angles. Despite continuing to make a spate of unforced errors, she was able to rattle off points rather quickly with her short serve, not letting Sindhu unleash one of her trademark body smashes.

The rallies were now one-sided with Okuhara working Sindhu across the court and finishing off points. However, she stumbled at game point, allowing Sindhu to pocket three before taking the game into the decider.

Okuhara continued to be the pace-setter in the third and it was more of the same: cutting down scoring angles, winning long rallies and showing deceptiveness with her drop shots. At this point, she was far from the rusty player who struggled to build any kind of momentum in the first game. She lived up to her reputation of retrieving anything that is thrown at her; at one point she dived full stretch to her right to return the shuttle late in the decider and while Sindhu may have won that point, it was a sight to behold and summed up Okuhara’s brilliance in defence on the night.

Once again facing the ominous task of wiping out a huge deficit she faced throughout the decider, Sindhu’s run came to a tame end but not without producing a stunning cross-court drop after a 36-shot rally. The points kept coming at a rapid pace for Okuhara, who breezed her way into the last four with a comfortable win in the final game.

The fierce rivalry between the Indian and Japanese now stands 9-8 in favour of Sindhu as fourth seed Okuhara closed the gap with her gritty win in Birmingham.

With Sindhu’s defeat, India’s challenge at this year’s All England Open came to an end as well.