Saina Nehwal gave it her best shot but failed to stop the juggernaut that is Tai Tzu Ying in the final of the 2018 Denmark Open badminton tournament in Odense on Sunday.
The Indian, ranked 10th in the world, was playing in her third final of the year and was in top form, after having dispatched world No 2 Akane Yamaguchi, former world champion Nozomi Okuhara and world junior champion Gregoria Mariska Tunjung en route to the summit clash.
However, on the other side of the net on Sunday was a shuttler in even better form, someone who was playing in her ninth final of the year, and someone whom Saina had not beaten in their last 10 meetings. The last time the Indian had emerged victorious against the Taiwanese was at the 2013 Swiss Open.
Saina knew she was in for a rough ride and it did not help when the 28-year-old got off to a sluggish start, with a couple of service errors and unforced errors early in the match. This allowed Tai to grab the initiative and she was not going to let it go easily.
The world’s top-ranked player brought forth her best deceptive game and bamboozled Saina with her back-hand slices and cross-court drops, even as she took the first game comfortably 21-13.
But just when Saina looked down and out, some timely advice from her fiance P Kashyap, who was on the coaches’ chairs, seemed to bail her out as the second game began. Kashyap advised Saina to stop the cross-court lifts and make her move back and forth. “You are playing well; be disciplined,” he said, at the interval after the first game.
It was a different Saina that emerged after the break as she went on the attack and kept Tai near the baseline as much as she could.
Riding on her booming smashes and some poor line calls from Tai at the baseline, Saina led 11-5 at the break and then went on to win the game 21-13 to draw parity.
However, her inspired performance in the second game seemed to have drained all the gas from Nehwal’s tank as she completely capitulated in the deciding game.
Tzu Ying curtailed her mistakes while Saina committed many as the Indian conceded nine straight points before the interval to hand the world No 1 a sizeable advantage.
From 2-11 down, there was no way Saina was fighting back, as Tai wrapped up the game 21-16 to seal her eighth title of the year.