Defending champion Saina Nehwal suffered a heartbreaking narrow loss to Olympic Champion Li Xuerui in the semifinals of the India Open Super Series badminton tournament in New Delhi on Saturday.
The 26-year-old Indian lost 20-22, 21-17, 19-21 to Li in an edge-of-the-seat thriller in the women's singles competition, to draw curtains on Indian challenge at the Siri Fort Complex.
In a nail-biting contest, Saina matched up to Li in the fast-paced rallies but she was not consistent in finishing the rallies. Li, on the other hand, blew hot and cold as some of her cross court half-smashes caught Saina off-guard. Although she also faltered with many strokes.
Saina opened up a 8-5 lead early on and managed to stave off the challenge from Li till 11-9. But the Chinese soon managed to draw parity with two quick points and then turned the tables, reaching 16-13.
Saina roared back to level with a superb drop from the back court before Li found the net. The Chinese hit wide again and both were tied at 18-18. Another miscued smash and Saina was leading 19-18.
What followed was an energy-sapping rally that ended with a return, which Saina didn't even try. But the Indian ensured she has the first shot to take advantage as she reached the game point with a smash that Li could only send to the net.
Li then produced a deceptive slice and with Saina hitting wide and then leaving another shot from Li on the right, it was all over.
In the second game, Saina zoomed to a 7-1 lead with Li committing too many unforced errors. The Chinese also faltered with her slices and drops, and Saina led 11-6 at the interval.
Saina produced a couple of accurate down the line smashes even as Li continued to struggle with her strokes. Then all of a sudden, Li gathered a flurry of points to narrow the gap to 14-17.
Another long rally ensued and Saina reached 20-17 when Li found the net. The Indian then grabbed it with a delectable drop to roar back into the contest.
In the decider, Saina once again marched ahead to a 6-2 lead. Li tried to narrow it down to 7-6 but Saina had her nose ahead 11-7 at the break after she engaged in a parallel game with Li.
After the change of sides, Saina continued to dominate the rallies to reach 15-11. But a couple of bad line judgment helped Li to cut down the margin to 13-15.
Leading 18-16, Saina allowed Li to draw parity when she hit the net twice. A deceptive return was cancelled by a long shot before a line kissing slice gave the advantage to Li, who sealed it when Saina failed to negotiate a return.