World No 3 Saina Nehwal, the highest seeded player in the women’s singles semifinal, missed out on a golden opportunity to win her maiden All England Championships.
Having scaled the Chinese Wall in the form of sixth seed Wang Shixian in the quarterfinals on Friday night, Saina lost to Intanon Ratchanok, Thailand’s 18-year-old World No 8, 15-21 19-21 in a 40-minute engrossing tussle at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham on Saturday. Ratchanok will take on Denmark’s Tine Baun in the final on Sunday. Baun defeated Korean Ji Hyun Sung 24-22 19-21 21-19 in the second semifinal.
The All England is regarded as the unofficial World Championships. The oldest badminton tournament is the equivalent of tennis’ Wimbledon. Winning the title is any shuttler’s dream. Saina lost in the quarterfinals in the previous two editions. She twice progressed to the semis — in 2010 and this year — hitherto her best results in this tourney.
Ratchanok’s progress has been impressive. What does her win signify? It is perhaps a case of other countries checking the Chinese dominance. That there were eight different nationals in the women’s singles quarterfinal line-up proves that the Chinese are gradually looking beatable.
Maybe it was thought that Saina would have it easy since the Chinese were not in the fray in the final stages of the tournament. But that wasn’t the case. Saina herself has admitted that other nations have caught up, and it’s not just about Chinese dominance anymore.
After the semifinal, Saina’s mentor P Gopichand told DNA from Birmimgham that “one could not underestimate any player”. “At this level, and with the way things are going, you cannot take anybody for granted. These matches prove that it is anybody’s game. It is how well you play on that day and how lucky you are that matter. I thought, in the end, Saina was not lucky with a couple of shots,” Gopichand said.
“It was a very close match that could have gone either way,” Gopichand said. “Credit to Ratchanok, she was quick with the end points.”
Gopi disagreed that Saina was tired after Friday’s encounter against Shixian. “Fitness wise, Saina was okay. In fact, Ratchanok played her quarterfinal after Saina. I thought Saina hurried up a little bit in the end. She just had to put the shuttle at the other side and wait.”
Gopi said that they were prepared for a tough fight from the Thai teenager. “Both fought well, it was neck and neck. Saina lost but she is young and will come back stronger in the next tournament.”
The 22-year-old had her moments. She led 10-6 early in the first game before conceding six straight points to Ratchanok. Thereafter, Ratchanok maintained her lead to win the first game 21-15. In the second, Saina was up 5-3 but a couple of smashes by Ratchanok caught the Indian short, eventually overtaking her. The Thai maintained the lead to win the game by two points, the winner coming courtesy a Saina return to the net.