It’s amusing how even an unseeded player from China could upstage a world class player with utmost ease. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened on Saturday as the World no. 5 Saina Nehwal’s hopes of winning a maiden Asians title went up in smokes after losing to the unheralded, Xuerui Li from China in the semifinals of the Yonex-Sunrise Badminton Asia Championships. With this, India’s campaign also came to an end.
The ace shuttler looked jittery right from the start of the match and failed to keep up with the pace of the Chinese. By Saina’s own admission, she kept attacking and couldn’t keep her aggression in check. “My opponent was going too fast. In a bid to catch up with her, I lost my judgment and focus. Even Gopi sir (Pullela Gopichand, coach) asked me to slow down. But something went wrong. In addition to that, I had never played her before this match and didn’t know much about the game. Probably this wasn’t my day,” said India’s ace shuttler. In the first game, she got the first few points through her deft drop shots but started faltering through midway.
Leading at 10-8, Saina, it seemed, began losing her focus and started firing wide and allowed Li to surge ahead and grabbed the lead by two points. By this time, Saina had already started showing her nerves. The same drop shots that helped her win the initial points wasn’t coming right to her and suddenly started to flounder at the net. The Indian showed flashes of brilliance but that wasn’t enough to win her the game.
At 15-15, Saina brought Li towards the net and won a point on a close net-play but a flurry of judgment errors towards the end game cost her some crucial points as the Chinese sealed the first game in her favour.
In the second game, Saina's body language and confident strokes were clearly missing. Though she picked up the first point through a lightning smash directed at the right corner but that didn’t seem to help much in boosting her morale.
Li had now started hitting hard and high and Saina fell into the trap by returning her with speed. It was a plot to catch Saina on the wrong foot.
“I later realised that Li was instigating me into playing fast. But then by then, I kept doing what I wanted to. I just lost my concentration,” said Saina after the match.
At 6-19, the Indian won four points in quick succession but couldn’t stop Li from entering into the final.