India's PV Sindhu produced a performance befitting the occasion, beating reigning All England singles champion Nozomi Okohura of Japan 21-19, 21-10, to book her place in the women's singles final in Rio.
Sindhu has now become both the second Indian medalist of the Rio Games, as well as the second Indian badminton player to bag an Olympic medal after Sania Nehwal, who had won bronze in London four years ago. Sindhu will face Spain's Carolina Marin in the final on Friday, slated to be played at 6.55pm IST.
Sindhu began with serve, but it was Okohura who opened the scoring with a booming crosscourt smash to settle the opening rally. Sindhu then picked up four consecutive points -- the last of those with a delectable backhand diagonal drop shot -- to put some distance between the two.
Sindhu would open up a four point lead at 8-4, before Okuhara tried to fight back with a smash down the line. Sindhu, however, showed her full range of skills with the score at 8-6, starting with a diagonal drop, and then a powerful smash to settle a rally that lasted 23 shots. Sindhu led 11-6 in the mid-game break.
Okuhara settled after the break, bringing the score back to 9-12 with a challenge upheld for a shot initially called long at Sindu's baseline, and then bridging the gap to 14-11. Sindhu sent a couple of smashes wide of the sidelines by a fair distance, but Okuhara crucially misjudged a drop to open a three-point lead again at 16-13.
The two players then missed the sidelines off alternate points, but Sindhu showed exceptional retrieval skills in keeping the three-point lead going till 18-15. Okuhara picked up two points, and kept snapping at Sindhu's heels, before an error on her serve handed Sindhu two game points.
Okuhara would save the first of those by making Sindhu move all around the court, bringing her forward every now and then with soft hands. However, Sindhu took the opening game 21-19 off the next service, winning the game in 27 minutes.
The second game began with Sindhu looking to be aggressive, and she raced to a 3-0 lead with some strong smashes on either side of her opponent. Okuhara, however, registered five points on the trot with some great retrievals and patient play. In fact, when she led 4-3, it was the first time since the start of the match that she had held the lead.
Sindhu would win the next two points to level things up, and the pattern of leading and catching up would continue till 8-8, when a well-disguised forehand allowed the Indian to reclaim the lead at 9-8. At 10-9. Sindhu hastened onto the shuttle and failed to complete an easy smash. But off the very next point, Okuhara misjudged a shot to her baseline to hand the Indian an 11-10 advantage going into the mid-game break.
Straight after the break, Okuhara was taken aback by the increased intensity in Sindhu's game, as the Indian showed remarkable reserves of energy, making Okuhara run around her side of the court by sending in several forehand smashes mixed with judicious changes of pace. Sindhu completed the second game 21-10 in just 22 minutes. Remarkably, she picked the last 11 points in succession to become the first Indian to reach an Olympic final in badminton.
The 10th-ranked Sindhu, who had defeated world No. 2 Wang Yihan of China in straight games in the quarterfinal, had lost three out of four previous meetings to Okuhara before today, including their most recent meeting in February 2016.
Earlier Marin completed a 21-14, 21-16 win over defending champion Li Xuerui of China, made easier when the latter appeared to do some severe damage to her knee as she went for an overhead smash. Marin was leading 18-16 in the second game at that stage, and won her last three points with Xuerui hardly able to move.