Indian ace Indian Saina Nehwal's invincible run came to a shocking halt after Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu Ying handed her a heart-breaking three-game loss in the semifinals of the BWF World Super Series Final badminton tournament in Dubai on Saturday.
After topping the group with three victories in as many matches, Saina's dreams of reaching the finals came crashing down as she suffered a 21-11 13-21 9-21 loss to World No. 9 Tai in a 55-minute women's singles match.
A 2011 finalist, Saina was on course for a final appearance when she walked away with the opening game but she crumbled under pressure in the second and third game to let the opportunity slip.
In the opening game, Tai struggled with her length early on as a series of unforced errors allowed Saina to quickly surge to a 4-0 lead. The Indian looked very composed even as Tai struggled with the fast shuttle at the Hamdan Sports Complex.
Egged on by a vociferous crowd, the Indian grabbed a comfortable 11-5 lead at the break when Tai faltered with her cross court dribble. The Taiwan girl didn't have any answer to Saina's angled strokes and immaculate netplay as the Indian cantered to a 17-7 lead.
Tai collected a few points with her fast slices and returns at Saina's baseline and when the Indian committed a couple of unforced errors. But the Taipei player never looked to threaten the Indian.
Eventually, Saina closed the first game when Tai found the net. The second game was no different as once again Saina opened up a 4-0 lead. Playing with the drift now on the other side of the court, Saina faced problems with the length, which allowed Tai to claw back at 4-4. Tai showed great anticipation at the nets thereafter to lead 5-4 for the first time in the match.
Tai slowly gained in confidence and put pressure on Saina, who all of a sudden seemed clueless. Tai came up with improved strokes and great anticipation at the nets to move into the interval at 11-6.
Saina changed her tactics after the break and soon she reaped dividends as she moved her way back to draw parity at 12-12. But the Indian made a few mistakes in line judgement as Tai once again lead 17-12.
A backhand half smash took Tai to the game point and she soon roared back into contest when Saina hit wide.
In the decider, Saina started with unforced errors as her returns went wide and long to allow Tai lead 6-2. Tai changed the pace of the rallies with deceptive drops and backhand returns to dominate the game even as Saina showed signs of mental frailty.
At the break, Tai led 11-3 and she continued her dominance even after the change of ends extending her lead to 15-4 even as Saina crumbled, succumbing in the debris of her heap of unforced errors. In the end, Tai sealed a place in the finals With a couple of disguise drops which Saina had no answers.