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Saina Nehwal continued her solid start to 2019 by advancing to the final of the Indonesia Masters for the second year in succession after defeating China’s He Bingjiao 18-21, 21-12, 21-18. While she lost in the final to world No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying last year, she will be looking to go one better this year, against reigning Olympic and World champion Carolina Marin.

How have their past meetings panned out?

Saina won the first three times these two players met, forcing the hand of Marin’s coach Fernando Rivas to tinker his tactics.

However, it has been mostly one-way traffic since then as Marin has won six of their eight subsequent matches, with five of those coming in straight games. The two met last week in the semi-finals of the Malaysia Masters, where Marin picked up a straightforward 21-16, 21-13 win in just 40 minutes.

Saina’s last win against Marin came at the Denmark Open in 2017 in a tight match, as she prevailed 22-20, 21-18.

How have they started 2019?

Marin and Saina have been the two best women’s singles players in the first month of 2019, reaching the last four in both Malaysia as well as Indonesia, something even Tai Tzu, Nozomi Okuhara or PV Sindhu failed to achieve.

While Marin has a 8-1 win-loss record this year (her only loss came against Ratchanok Intanon in the final of the Malaysia Masters), Saina’s only loss this year in eight matches has come against Marin herself.

It’s still early days, but both Saina and Marin have showed enough glimpses in these two tournaments to prove that they are close to their peak form and will be major contenders in all the big events this year.

What has been their path to the final?

Both Marin and Saina have dropped two games in the tournament en route to the final and have spent around the same time on court to get their four wins. However, Marin has had to face much tougher opposition than Saina, defeating Sindhu in the quarters and Chen Yufei in the semis.

Saina’s best performance came against world No. 7 Bingjiao in the semis, where she fought back impressively after losing the opening game despite leading 16-11 at one point.

Keys to the match

Saina has not won a Superseries or World Tour tournament after the Rio Olympics, and that drought must be a major cause of concern for her as she lost all the three finals she has played since then. Her only title following the Olympics came at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.

On the other hand, Marin won the World Championships last year and has also won three titles on the World Tour and Superseries calendar sinc the Rio Olympics, besides four other runner-up finishes. It makes her the overwhelming favourite on Sunday.

The biggest problem that Saina has faced against Marin in the last couple of years has been her failure to dictate the tempo and pace of play. Marin’s strategy has revolved around attacking Saina’s backhand and then taking control at the net.

It is imperative that Saina gets off to a good start against the Spaniard as once Marin takes the lead, she only tends to grow in confidence. With Saina no longer having the power or speed to match the fast pace at which Marin plays, an early deficit could mean curtains for the Indian.

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