Shuttler Saina Nehwal’s bid to defend her women’s singles title at the China Open Superseries Premier was unsuccesful as she suffered a straight-game defeat to Olympic champion Li Xuerui in the final of the US $700,000 event in Fuzhou on Sunday.
Top seed and Olympic bronze medallist Nehwal, committed a host of unforced errors to go down 12-21, 15-21 against World No. 7 Li in the 39-minute-long title clash at the Haixia Olympic Sports Center.
Up against an opponent against whom she has lost nine times in the past, Nehwal failed to create the pressure which could have wilted Xuerui, who showed better understanding of the Indian’s game to outdo her for the 10th time.
In their 12th meeting, Nehwal initially used her knowledge of the conditions to her advantage to zoom to a 4-1 lead early on but she committed too many unforced errors after that for Xuerui to move ahead.
Nehwal, who last played Xuerui in the Malaysian open, struggled with a few strokes going wide and also left gaps on her left which the Chinese exploited to wrest a 7-4 lead. Nehwal won a parallel game and a point when Xuerui missed the line after a long rally but the Chinese used her net drops and rode on Nehwal’s unforced errors to lead 11-6 at the break.
Xuerui, who has won the last five matches against Nehwal, continued her march after the interval even as the Indian kept breathing down her neck with some occasional points.
Xuerui made some immaculate saves while Nehwal started crumbling under pressure which allowed the Chinese to lead 19-10. Nehwal then again hit wide to gave Li a 10-point advantage at 20-10. Nehwal saved a couple before mistiming a return to give the first game to Li.
In the second game, Nehwal surged ahead to a 4-0 lead once again. Playing their fifth final of the year, Xuerui and Nehwal engaged in engrossing rallies and even though Xuerui came up with some spectacular shots, she also committed some mistakes to allow Nehwal to lead 11-6 at the interval.
However, Xuerui changed gears after the interval and came up with sharp smashes and drops to reel off seven points to surpass Saina and make it 13-12 in her favour.
Xuerui picked up the shuttle early and came up with disguised shots to catch Nehwal off-guard.
There was a spring in Xuerui’s steps as she dominated the proceedings. The Indian failed to give the finishing touch to the rallies and also went wide and long too often to help Xuerui eventually grab a 19-15 lead.
A brilliant drop by Xuerui found Nehwal stretched as her stroke went to net and then the Indian hit the shuttle long as Xuerui clinched her second title of the season.