The dream run of top shuttlers Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth came to an end after they suffered contrasting defeats in the semifinals to bring the curtains down on India's campaign at the BWF World Super Series Finals badminton tournament in Dubai on Saturday.
While Indian ace Saina's invincible run was cut short by Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu Ying, who handed her a heart-breaking 11-21, 21-13, 21-9 loss in women's singles, young Srikanth blew away a healthy lead in the first game to go down 18-21, 9-21 against World Champion Chen Long of China in the men's singles.
It was 24-year-old Saina, who started the semifinal proceedings and the 2011 finalist was on course for another 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 go 4-0 up. The Indian looked very composed and egged on by a vociferous crowd, she 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 but she never looked to threaten the Indian.
Saina closed the first game eventually when Tai found the net.
The second game also started on a similar note as Saina opened up a 4-0 lead again. 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.
The Taiwan girl slowly gained in confidence and put pressure on Saina, who all of a sudden seemed clueless. Tai came up with improved strokes and good movement on the court 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 led 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's unforced errors saw Tai lead 6-2.
The World No 9 changed the pace of the rallies with deceptive drops and backhand returns and dominated the game as Saina showed signs of mental frailty and eventually crumbled.
At the break, Tai led 11-3 and continued her dominance even after the change of ends, extending her lead to 15-4. In the end, Tai sealed a place in the finals with a couple of disguise drops which Saina had no answers. MORE PTI ATK BS
While Saina suffered a shock, Srikanth paid the price for blowing away a healthy 14-7 lead in the first game.
In the opening game, Srikanth tried to keep Chen to the baseline with his tosses and showed good anticipation to produce winners to lead 11-5 at the break.
Chen produced his some brilliant lifts from difficult positions but Srikanth kept hitting the shuttles back and never shied away from walking up to the net. The Indian made some impossible returns, including one despite being flat on the ground, during long rallies and closed the points with his wide range of shots. He led 15-8.
However, Chen soon brought urgency back in his game, producing some difficult angled smashes and finding gaps in Srikanth's game to narrow the lead to 14-16. Chen started dominating the net and drew parity at 18-18. He then went into the lead with a jump smash and soon earned two game points. He grabbed the next point as well after a thrilling battle in the longest rally of the match.
His back to the wall, Srikanth needed to do something extraordinary but the Indian failed to create any jinx in his opponent's armoury, who enjoyed an upper hand to lead 11-3 at the break of the second game.
Srikanth tried to gather a few points by pushing Chen at the deep backhand corners and covering the net but the Indian could not tame the Chinese, who made the Indian pay for his mistakes and stamped his authority to lead 19-7.
Chen went into the match point when Srikanth hit out and pocketed the match when the Indian found the net.
Image: Saina Nehwal
Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images for Falcon