Gritty Li downs Saina in a marathon

Gritty Li downs Saina in a marathon

Badminton India Open : Indian ace crashes out in thrilling semifinal tie

Gritty Li downs Saina in a marathon

Saina Nehwal did all the hard work but it was Li Xuerui who brought her best on key points to storm into the women’s singles final of Yonex Sunrise India Open at Siri Fort Sports Complex on Saturday.

In the final, Xuerui will play fourth-seeded Ratchanok Intanon who brushed aside Korean Bae Yeon Ju 21-8, 21-11.

Saina, seeded second, was the better player for the better part of the match but couldn’t improve on her poor record against the third-seeded Chinese. Her head-to head against the Olympic defending champion now reads 11-2 following her heartbreaking 20-22, 21-17, 19-21 defeat in front of sizeable home audience.

In fact, Xuerui, who would play Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon in the final, was far from her best. She was making a slew of errors, especially at the net, but persisted with remarkable determination and counterattack. Saina faltered despite leading in all the three games.

It, however, was an engaging contest, replete with fast exchanges and even long rallies. The Indian was primed to take the first game, where momentum shifted rapidly. Saina grabbed a game point at 20-19 with a stinging smash. But Xuerui reeled off next three points to nose ahead.

Saina, however, fought back in the second game and was helped by the erratic Chinese in opening up a 16-7 lead. But Xuerui suddenly got into the groove to snatch six straight points and a harried Saina glanced at coach Vimal Kumar. She, however, regrouped and with a well-timed drop took the match into the decider.

Saina pushed the pace in the decider to lead 11-7 at the break and later 14-9 but Xuerui always found a way to mount a comeback.  She drew level with Saina at 18-18 with a superb backhand flick and again at 19 when Saina’s return sailed long.  In the next point, Xuerui hit another down the line smash. Saina challenged it, only to be turned down.  The Chinese now had the match point; the crowd egged on Saina furiously, but the Indian hit her return low to bow out disappointed.

“I think the difference was just some points here and there but last two points she hit close to the line. That made the difference. I should have won the first game. She is playing quite close to the line. I gave away silly errors, I left a line call,” Saina said.

“I had big leads but she came back, she was picking up everything, she was maintaining good rallies. It can be irritating to miss out on such matches.”

The men’s final would be played between Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and Japan’s Kento Momota. Axelsen brushed aside Korean Wan Ho Son 21-11, 21-11, while Momota advanced when China’s Xue retired hurt midway with a knee injury.

Results (all semifinals, Indians unless mentioned): Men’s singles: 5-Viktor Axelsen (Den) bt Wan Ho Son (Kor) 21-11, 21-11; 2-Kento Momota (Jpn) bt Xue Song (Chn) 17-21, 3-6 (retired).

Women’s singles: 4-Ratchanok Intanon (Tha) bt  Bae Yeon Ju (Kor) 21-8, 21-11; 3-Li Xuerui (Chn) bt  2-Saina Nehwal 22-20, 17-21, 21-19.

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