What do you do, as a professional athlete playing an individual sport, when you have lost to the same opponent 11 times in a row? When you just can’t figure someone out? When someone has an answer for everything you throw at them? All you can do, really, is hope your opponent has a bad day in the office.

Saina Nehwal will find herself in a position that is not very enviable when she stands on the other side of the net in front of world number one Tai Tzu Ying, a shuttler in near invincible form, in their French Open quarter-final on Friday.

Having won eight of the nine finals she has contested this year, Tai is almost playing at a level where even the thought of her losing sounds preposterous. However, with the never-say-never attitude that Saina has, she is not among those who think this match has a foregone conclusion.

Saina would only have to look towards a 22-minute period in their last meeting, just five days ago in the final of the Denmark Open, to know that Tai is only human.

Tai has looked invincible for the most part of the last two years. But whenever she has been overpowered, there have been a few pointers that Saina can build on.

Just like any stroke player, Tai loves to control the pace of the rallies and play the shuttle slightly ahead as it allows her to have more variations.

In the Denmark Open final, Saina was able to pin the world number one to the back court with precision in her tosses and that was enough to frustrate Tai.

In that match, Saina had started slowly, committing two service errors before the first interval, and had allowed Tai to take the initiative. She also looked quite hesitant in her movement while retrieving because of the kind of deceptive shots Tai was playing and could never gain composure. Tai’s wristwork and superb court coverage were far too good for her at that point.

In the interval after the first game, P Kashyap, who was on coaching duties, told Saina, “You are playing well. Be disciplined.” Before that, the television camera’s microphone also picked up him telling her, “Tu aage-peeche khila usko.” Make her move back and forth.

Saina listened to Kashyap and pinned Tai to the back of the court as much as possible in the second game, bringing her forward only when she was sure the Taiwanese won’t be able to hit a winner. The quality of Saina’s attack also improved as she took the risks and went for the lines with her smashes, while also attacking Tai’s body.

So flustered was Tai at one stage during that second game that she even refused Saina a change of shuttle, something you hardly ever see her do. Saina won that game comfortably in 22 minutes to take the match into a decider.

You could make out from the body language of both players, in that second game, how Saina had disturbed Tai’s rhythm and managed to find an opening in her armour. Saina was all fired up and shrieking after almost every point she won, something she rarely does, while Tai looked stunned. A turnaround was on. Or so it seemed.

Unfortunately, Saina could not maintain the same level of play in the third game. Court conditions could also have had a role to play, with the automatic air conditioning in Odense switching on as more people piled into the stadium. It affected the drift of the shuttle and the players had to readjust their lengths. Saina was again lost and, unfortunately for Indian fans, just surrendered.

While being consistent will be the key for Saina, she will also have to be more aggressive – attacking Tai with smashes on the body and frustrating her by forcing longer rallies in which the shuttle stays in flight longer.

If Saina is able to play against Tai like how she did in that second game in Odense, for a longer period than 22 minutes, she would give herself the best chance of an unlikely win. “You can’t allow Tai to play her strokes,” says former national champion Trupti Murgunde, who was also a stroke player like the Taiwanese.

“You have to put her in pressure and displace her – don’t let her come under the shuttle and don’t give her enough time to play those strokes of hers. To play those strokes, you need to be in the right position, under the shuttle. So if you are able to displace her, put her under pressure and not allow her to play their strokes, she could go a bit haywire,” Trupti added.

That is a big “could” because players around the world have been trying to come up with the right tactic against Tai, but that is easier in theory than actually being able to pull it off on court with the Taiwanese at the other end.

Saina will have to deviate from her natural game if she has to beat Tai in Paris, where court conditions will be similar to those in Odense. She has to take the risks while attacking and be more watchful while retrieving. She also has to ensure Tai plays as few dribbles and flicks at the net as possible by keeping her at the back. And she has to do all this – without a break – for two games.

It’s not going to be easy for Saina but she’s got to believe that Tai is beatable because without belief the battle is already lost.

Saina Nehwal vs Tai Tzu Ying is the fourth match on the TV court on Friday. The first match begins at 6.30 pm IST. The French Open can be watched live in India on Star Sports 1, Star Sports 1 HD and Hotstar.