Birmingham: Star Indian shuttler Saina Nehwal's dream of winning her maiden All England Championship went up in smoke as the Indian suffered a straight-game defeat to world number eight Ratchanok Inthanon of Thailand in the semi-finals of the women's singles competition here on Saturday.
The world number three Indian went down 15-21, 19-21 to the young and dynamic Inthanon in a 40-minute match at the National Indoor Arena. This is the third time Saina has lost to Inthanon. She was beaten at the Sudirman Cup in 2011 and also at the Super Series Final last year. The 18-year-old Inthanon mixed the strokes and used her drops and tosses to fluommox Saina. The Thai girl had better control over her strokes and controlled the rallies with her varying pace to make it difficult to come back in the match after pocketing the first game at 21-15.
In the second game, Saina had open up a narrow 5-3 lead but the Thai girl used her accurate placing and varied stroke to reel off five straight points to move ahead 8-5. Inthanon kept doing the good work to lead 18-14. But she hit a couple of points wide to allow to narrow the gap. An error of judgement gave Inthanon two match point.
Saina saved one with a smash but she faltered at the nets next to gave the Thai a place at the finals. The court coverage of Inatanon was fantastic as she used the court really well to go up 6-4 in the first game. The more experienced Saina however levelled the scores at 6-6 and the match went on even keel.
What hurt Saina more was her error in judgement as she let go a lot of shots anticipating that it will be going out. The 18-year-old Thai girl was certainly a far more superior player on the day. There were quick smashes and those deceptive drop shots at the net which the Olympic bronze medallist didn't have any answer.
Inthanon however raced away from 13-13 as she won a number of points with some delightful precision smashes down the line. She completely outmaneuvered Saina with her net-play and coming up with those forceful smashes in between. At 20-15, there was another error of judgement on Saina's part as she conceded the first game at 21-15.
In the second game, Inthanon again dominated the show as she got a 8-5 lead. Saina's efforts to engage her into long rallies was not paying any dividends as the Thai girl looked equally good in retrieval as well as in attack. A frustrated Saina then made an unforced error as her forehand smash hit the net.
Down 7-10, a deft drop shot helped her pull back a point and Inathanon's backhand shot hit the net. Just as it looked that Saina can make a comeback at 9-10, Inthanon's down the line forehand smash made it 11-9. The comeback was beyond question as Inathanon raced to a five point lead at 14-9.
Saina closed the gap at 17-18 but the cushion remained with Inthanon as the winner closed the match The Indian saved a match point at 18-20 but at 20-19, a drop shot from Saina hit the net much to the delight of the Thailand girl.
How would you rate Sania's performance?