Rio Olympic Silver medallist P V Sindhu's brilliant run at the BWF World Super Series Final came to an end after she suffered a narrow defeat against World No 5 Korean Sung Ji-Hyun in the women's singles semi-finals, in Dubai on Saturday.
It was a contest between Sindhu's power and Sung Ji's precision and unfortunately the Indian failed to break the Korean's impregnable defence and went down fighting 15-21, 21-18, 16-21 in a thrilling 76-minute contest.
Sindhu, who had scripted a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Sung en route to her maiden China Open Super Series Premier title, could not match the Korean's excellent court coverage and deft touch.
The Indian had a 6-3 head-to-head record against Sung before the match but it meant nothing as Sung, who has been inside top 10 for last six years, made Sindhu run to all four corners of the court with her accurate returns and placements.
Her strategy seemed to work as she lead 10-7 after battling for every point early on in the contest. The Korean entered the break with a slender 11-9 lead.
Lagging 11-14, Sindhu narrowed the deficit to 14-15 with the help of her sharp smashes and half smashes but Sung always found a way to bounce back by mixing her strokes as she lead 18-14.
Sung won a long rally when Sindhu hit wide and then reached the game point when she pushed the Indian to the corner and caught her at the forecourt. The Korean then sealed the game with a flick at the nets.
Sung, who remained unbeaten in the Group stage, once again took a small 2-0 lead early on in the second game but Sindhu soon picked up three points to lead 3-2 and 6-5 in the initial stages.
Sindhu tried to break Sung Ji's rhythm and kept pushing her to the baseline and depended on her smashes to gather points. She lead 9-6. But errors flowed equally from Sindhu's racquet as she allowed the Korean to turn the tables at 10-9.
Sung Ji employed the same tactic that gave her results in the opening game as she kept pushing Sindhu to the back in the initial stages of rally and then tried to catch the Indian at the net with her deceptive cross court returns.
However, Sindhu managed to grab a slender 11-10 lead at the Interval when Sung Ji hit wide.
The duo continued their duel after the Interval and tested each other with some extraordinary strokes. They moved neck and neck from 11-11 till 17-17.
Standing at the mid court, the duo tried to outdo each other, waiting for one weak shot which can be exploited.
An error in judgement at the baseline by Sindhu helped the Korean to equal the score at 18-18. But Sindhu then came up with an accurate net return to grab the lead again and reached the game point after winning the longest rally of the match with a drop which Sung Ji failed to put away.
Another rally and Sindhu produced a stinging smash which left her opponent stranded and that took the match to the decider.
In the deciding game, Sung stood up front to catch hold on the shuttle early and tried to push Sindhu to the back and soon raced away to a 4-0 lead.
The Korean held on to the four point advantage till 9-5 with Sindhu committing unforced errors. At the Interval, the Korean had a 11-6 advantage after the Indian found the net again.
After the change of ends, Sindhu grabbed a couple of points but Sung bounced back with her soft touch to come up with forecourt winners and lead 15-9 at one stage.
Sindhu's cross court returns earned her a few points as she narrowed the lead to 11-16. But she continued to do the catch up job as the Korean extended the gap to 18-12. Another error near the net by Sindhu saw Sung reach 19-13.
Two superb smashes by the Indian was followed by another net error as Sung held five match points advantage which she converted with another winner at the first opportunity to seal her place in the finals.
Image: P V Sindhu