China's Wang Yihan shakes hand with Saina Nehwal of India after the semifinal women's singles badminton match of the London 2012 Olympic Games. (AFP/Adek Berry)
Sania Nehwal has an enviable stroking repertoire. She bedazzles with the varied lines she finds on the court; she can also hue her shots in different shades from an accomplished palette of speed. What she did not have on Friday were the legs to expand her canvas to paint Wang Yihan out of the picture.
“I was not moving so well, wasn't comfortable out there,” was the 22-year-old's candid confession after she had lost a chance to battle for the ultimate prize in the women's singles. The 13-21, 13-21 loss means she now plays Wang Xin in the bronze medal play-off on Saturday. Nehwal doesn’t have a good record against this Chinese either. It’s staked 2:4 against the Indian in the head-to-head stats.
When Nehwal entered the court, the Wembley Arena erupted. The number of Indians in the stands far outnumbered the Chinese. She did her little half-step/slide to check the court surface and strode to her chair hardly betraying that she was coiled up inside.
“Thoda tension mein movements free nahin tha (I was a bit tense and that affected my movement),” she revealed later.
The Haryanavi from Hyderabad began well too to lead 4-3, but that was the only time she managed to be ahead in the first game. Momentum during a match is almost like a living thing. You can feel its presence in a player's corner but it's a fickle, slippery deity — you can feel it slip away when the athlete fails to pay adequate homage to the basics.
By 13-7, when Nehwal served one long following a fight to take a point after squandering four in a row, one could feel the momentum ebb away. After all, if the game plan was to deny the Chinese control over the net, Nehwal was doing a poor job of it. As Nehwal's guttural shouts of ferocity after winning a point quelled into hard brooding stares every time a shuttle landed just out, Yihan raised her game to a different level.
There was a brief fightback by the cornered Indian to lead midway into the second game (12-11) but by then the reigning world champion from China had all the answers to Nehwal's posers. This match used up 18 shuttles against nine in the previous match that the Indian won — a clear indication that the Chinese was being able to churn out smash after smash in a style of play that suited her very well.