It was heartbreak for India’s Saina Nehwal as she again exited the All England Open Badminton Championships at the semi-final stage after losing her match against Thai teenager Ratchanok Intanon here on Saturday. It was probably Saina’s best opportunity to win the prestigious Super Series Premier tournament which her coach Pullela Gopichand had won in 2001.
However, it was not to be. The eighth seeded Ratchanok overcame the World No 3 Indian 21-15, 21-19 in 40 minutes in the women’s singles encounter at the National Indoor Arena. This was the 18-year-old’s third career win in seven career meetings against Saina. After playing the longest match of Friday against former World No 1 Shixian Wang, the second seed looked a notch less than her best as the former three-time World Junior Champion drubbed Saina regularly in both the games.
With the help of some exquisite backhand sliced smashes and drops at crucial junctures, Ratchanok took the match away from the second seed.
The first game started slowly with both players taking a defensive line. From 4-6 down, the Hyderabadi upped the ante taking six straight points to lead 10-6. But the Thai girl returned the favour by clinching the next six points to go up 12-10.
Down by 13-16, the London Olympics bronze medallist again fought her way back into the game due to her retrieving ability, making Ratchanok play that extra shot every time. But the 18-year-old proved too good for Saina to win the game in 17 minutes. Ratchanok led for most of the second game. With a never-say-die attitude, Saina tried closing the gap as the she brought the scoreline down from 9-14 to 17-18. Both players traded a point each hereon, with the Hyderabadi also saving a matchpoint which wasn't enough for the rising Thai shuttler.
Saina, who celebrates her 23rd birthday March 17, could have presented herself with the most precious gift by winning the title which the legendary Prakash Padukone and mentor Gopichand had won in 1980 and 2001, respectively. Sania had first reached the All England semifinals in 2010. The eighth seed next faces Korean fifth seed Ji Hyun Sung or two-time winner and seventh seed Tine Baun of Denmark for the grand prize on Sunday.
Lee all set for treble
Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei moved to within one step of winning back the All-England title in the men’s section. Lee beat Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk of Thailand, by 22-20, 21-8 to reach his fifth final.