Last year’s victory at the Indian Open Super Series badminton tournament got Saina Nehwal the world No 1 ranking as well.
Although Olympic qualification is the buzzword in this edition, and Saina, currently the world No 5, didn’t need to worry about Rio qualification much, she is regaining her best after recovering from an Achilles tendon injury.
The home crowd cheered her on as she took on Chinese Olympic champion, Li Xuerui, in the second women’s semifinal on Saturday.
Saina has rarely got past Li. Her defensive game held up for most part, and that showed her improved fitness. But once again the Chinese displayed great temperament, eventually getting the better of Saina’s tactics to play long points. Saina, 26, led in all three games, and won some nice rallies, but unforced errors cost her as she lost 20-22, 21-17, 19-21 in 72 minutes.
Li will face Ratchanon Intanon in Sunday’s final. The Thai never lost control against Korea’s Bae Yeon-ju, winning 21-8, 21-11.
Li, 25, extended her head-to-head record against Saina to 11-2, although there wasn’t much gap between the two. Saina took an early lead, mixing smashes and rallies. Li fought back, forcing Saina into mistakes on her backhand. Saina’s stamina was impressive as she fought back in the second game, forcing the decider. A couple of misread shots on the line and unforced errors meant at the very end cost her the match.
“The difference was just some points here and there,” Saina said. “I made silly errors,” she said. “I am very satisfied with my game. I played really well…Against Li, the last time it was straight games (defeat) at the China Super Series. This time it was three games.” Saina will next play in Malaysia and Singapore this month.
Li said: “It is just a few key points that made the difference. It was a tough game, and Saina played very well. I was making a lot of mistakes, but once I was able to overcome them, I was back in the match. Even while trailing, I was not looking at the score. The idea was to cut down on errors and focus on one point at a time.”
Li is not taking her Rio qualification for granted, pointing out that competition in China has really shot up since her London Olympics gold medal.