Saina Nehwal's hopes of winning her maiden 'World Super Series Finals title this year went up in smoke as she lost her semi-final clash against top seed and current Olympic champion Li Xuerui of China in a three-game encounter.
The London Olympics bronze-medallist waged a grim battle against World No. 2 Xuerui and took the match to the decider but eventually ran out of steam.
Saina lost 20-22 21-7 13-21 to the Chinese shuttler in 50 minutes at the China Resources Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre.
Saina, who has won Swiss Open, Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold, Indonesia Open Super Series Premier and Denmark Open Super Series Premier this year, was eyeing her first WSS Finals title having lost in the title round last year and in the semi-finals in 2009.
The World No 3 Saina made a resounding start reeling off six straight points in the opening game. But her Chinese opponent clawed her way back to make it 9-9 with Saina guilty of being a tad slow on her returns.
The Hyderabadi, however, relied on her fine baseline game to be 16-13 ahead but Xuerui again caught her up at 16-16.
Saina made fine use of her trademark crosscourt smashes and drop shots to which Xuerui had no response and took herself on the verge of winning the first game just when the Chinese shuttler made a spirited comeback and won some crucial points to grab the first game at 22-20.
Saina had four game points but she failed to convert her chances and Xuerui reeled off six straight points to put the Indian on the back foot.
The second game saw Saina using her smashes and crosscourt winners to perfection as she took an eight-point lead and kept on swelling it to clinch the game with relative ease.
She did not give her opponent any chance to claw her way back into the game and showed a lot of commitment in retrieving whatever Xuerui threw at her in the engaging rallies.
The decider was a neck-and neck affair with neither player giving the other too much space to win points.
Xuerui dominated the proceedings but Saina first drew parity at 7-all and then took the lead at 10-8.
At 11-all, the match was evenly poised but the local challenger displayed superior skill and speed to take the game and match away from Saina.
Xuerui took two game points to enter the summit clash of the USD 500,000 championship.
In the process, Xuerui has also improved her head-to-head against Saina to 5-2.
The women's singles final will be an all Chinese affair as Xuerui will meet compatriot and third seed Shixian Wang, who beat Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand 21-12 21-19 earlier on Saturday.