Pusarla, favoured to set up a heavyweight clash with top seed Ratchanok Intanon, played catch-up from the start and was only in the lead six times the entire match.
Gao revealed she came into battle “desperate” to end her wait for a last four spot at an HSBC BWF World Tour event, after last doing so at the 2018 Singapore Open, where she finished runner-up to Sayaka Takahashi.
“I fought for every point, even when leading, I didn’t take the foot off the gas. It was important I stayed focused until the result was secured,” said the 24-year-old world No.36 after avenging her loss to Pusarla at the same stage last week at Canada Open.
“It’s been too long since I played a World Tour semifinal and I wasn’t prepared to wait any longer. To be honest, I was desperate to get this win because these chances don’t present themselves often. I was disappointed I missed one in Canada. I won’t stop though, I will fight for a final spot.”
Gao established herself among the top 16 in the world in the second half of 2018 but suffered a form dip in mid-2019 and plummeted to a lowly No.1,428 just before the COVID-19 era. She set in motion her climb back up in 2022, winning the Indonesia International Challenge, the Super 100 Indonesia Masters and Malaysia International Series.
To arrive at the final in Council Bluffs, Gao must better Intanon, whom she tripped in front of her own fans at the Thailand Open just last month.
Does that fill her with confidence going into the match?
“I will try my best, like I did in Bangkok.”