Saina Nehwal lost more than just a match. She lost out on a huge opportunity to break the psychological barrier against the Olympic champion Li Xuerui. Worse, the crowd favourite failed to win a contest she dominated before the Chinese sneaked ahead at the business-end of their semifinal clash in the $300,000 India Open at the Siri Fort Indoor Complex here.
Trailing for the better part of the 72-minute contest, the gritty Chinese served a body-blow to Saina by inflicting a painful 22-20, 17-21, 21-19 defeat. Since Saina’s three-game victory in the 2012 Indonesian Open, the Indian has won just three games, and lost 14, in seven straight losses to the World No. 2.
READ: >Saina satisfied with her game despite loss
In April 2010, at the same venue, Xuerui played as a qualifier in the Asian championship and stunned Saina 21-17, 21-11 on her way to the title. On this day, she extended her domination of Saina, ranked sixth, and claimed her 11th victory in 13 encounters.
So how was this defeat different and demoralising?
Consider this: Statistically, in each of the three games, Saina led 11-8, 11-6 and 11-7 at the mid-game break. All credit to Xuerui, who despite squandering a 16-13 cushion in the first game, saved a game-point to snatch away the opener after a three-point blitz.
Thereafter, a determined Saina led through the second game – where she almost blew away a 16-7 lead – and stayed ahead until 19-18 in the decider.
Trailing 7-13, Xuerui rallied to make it 19-all and reached match-point following Saina’s unsuccessful ‘challenge’ to a shuttle called ‘in’. Moments later, a nervous Saina netted a return after a ‘bodyline’ smash from Xuerui.
Later, looking distraught, Saina said, “The difference was the last two points when she hit close to the line. That made the difference. She is playing quite close to the line that is why she is winning matches. I committed silly errors… I left a line call.
“I should have won the first game after leading 20-19. Obviously such matches give lot of confidence but it can also be irritating to miss out. I am good but I know I can be much better,” concluded Saina on an optimistic note.
On her part, Xuerui said it was a “difficult” match. With a Chinese photo-journalist playing the role of an interpreter, she said Saina could have been under pressure before the home crowd. “Playing at home can be of advantage or burden you with expectations. I am happy to have tried my best and won.”
Xuerui will now face former World champion Ratchanok Intanon , seeded four. The short-statured Thai girl dismantled the taller Korean left-hander Bae Yeon Ju in just 36 minutes.
Among the men, second seed Japanese Kento Momota was lucky to be in the final after his young Chinese rival Xue Song twisted his knee following a fall and retired when leading 21-17, 6-3. Momota will take on the lanky Dane Viktor Axelson who brushed aside the unseeded Korean Son Wan Ho in 35 minutes.
The results (Semifinals, prefix denotes seeding):
Men singles: 5-Victor Axelson (Den) bt Son Wan Ho (Kor) 21-11, 21-11; 2-Kento Momota (Jpn) bt Xue Song (Chn) 17-21, 3-6 (retired).
Women singles: 4-Ratchnok Intanon (Tha) bt Bae Yeon Yu (Kor) 21-8, 21-11; 3-Li Xuerui (Chn) bt 2-Saina Nehwal 22-20, 17-21, 21-19.
Men doubles: Gideon Markus Fernaldi and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (Ina) bt V. Shem Goh and Wee Kiong Tan (Mal) 21-15, 21-17; 7-Annga Pratama and Ricky Karanda Suwardi (Ina) bt Ko Sung Huyn and Shin Bek Cheol (Kor) 21-18, 6-21, 21-19.
Women doubles: 3-Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi (Jpn) bt 1-Nitya Krishinda Maheswari and Greysia Polii (Ina) 21-18, 19-21, 23-21; Naoko Fukuman and Kurumi Yanao (Jpn) bt 2-Christina Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl (Den) 14-21, 22-20, 21-17.
Mixed doubles: Riky Widianto and Puspita Richi Dili (Ina) bt Bodin Issara and Savitree Amitrapai (Tha) 21-18, 13-21, 21-7; 7-Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong (Chn) bt 2-Ko Sung Hyun and Kim Ha Na (Kor) 21-17, 17-21, 21-18.