Saina crashes into Chinese wall to exit India Open

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - Saina Nehwal

Saina crashes into Chinese wall to exit India Open

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Arun S Kaimal

04/02/2016

Defending champion and second seed Saina Nehwal bowed out of the India Open Super Series badminton tournament on Saturday after losing to Olympic champion Li Xuerui in the semi-final. Saina led the deciding game 14-7, before losing it 19-21 to exit the tournament in front of the home crowd.

After earning a hard-fought victory against Sung Ji Hyun in the quarter-final yesterday, second seed and defending champion Saina Nehwal reached the semi-final to take on third seed Li Xuerui of China. Going in to the match, the Indian ace trailed the Chinese No.1 2-10 in the head to head record and was in for another tough contest with Saina’s last victory against Li Xuerui coming back in 2012.

But, it was the Indian No.1, who had the better start to the match by winning the first point of the game with a smash to the left of Li Xuerui from the mid-court. The Olympic champion soon levelled things up in the match to silence the crowd, but a 41-shot rally a point later brought the crowd back to their feet with the Chinese shuttler missing a crucial return to give Saina a 3-1 lead. The World No.6 led from their own till the mid game interval matching Li Xuerui shot for shot to go to the break with a three-point lead.

Things tightened up after the break with the Olympic Champion upping her game with three successive points to level things up. The lead exchanged to and fro as both players looked determined to win the first game. A false serve at 18-17, cost Saina some decisive advantage as the World No.2 came back to make it 19-19. Saina went ahead with a powerful smash after Li Xuerui’s tame return found the net and was on the brink of securing the match with a 20-19 lead. But the third seed showed her prowess in the last stretch with Saina making careless errors - first by sending one wide before misjudging a shot from Li Xuerui to surrender the first set 20-22.

Although she agonisingly lost the first game, the Indian No.1 bounced back in the second game by dominating the Chinese shuttler from the start. For a change, it was Li Xuerui, who was making the errors and before Li Xuerui realised the price of it, it was 6-11 in favour of the Indian. Saina continued her good run after the break and added five more points to her kitty to open up the possibility of a third and final game. Saina was looking unbeatable, the crowd were on their feet, but the atmosphere inside the stadium changed to an eerie silence soon as the Olympic Champion won six straight points to make it 16-13. But, unlike the opening game, the Indian did not take her leg off the accelerator till the finish and pushed forward to take the game 21-17 with a drop from the mid-court to set up a third and deciding game.

The World No.6 took the momentum from winning the second game into the decider and continued her domination from the start and took a five-point lead before the mid-game interval. The service faults, which cost Saina the first game, came from Li Xuerui this time as Saina looked the favourite with a seven-point lead. Once again the Olympic champion pulled it back from nowhere and crept back into the game with six points in a row to make it an interesting finish. Suddenly, once again errors started creeping into Saina’s game, and she made it hard for herself, first with a smash straight to the net before sending one out of the court to give the Chinese the advantage. As it was in the first game, the errors changed the game, and Li Xuerui levelled it up at 19-19 before winning two points to take the game and the match.  

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