KUALA LUMPUR, April 4 (PTI): Ace Indian shuttler Saina Nehwal will lose her world no. 1 ranking after her gallant fight against Olympic champion Li Xuerui in the semifinals ended in heartbreak at the USD 500,000 Malaysia Open Super Series Premier badminton tournament, here today.
World number one Saina squandered a one-game advantage as she lost 21-13, 17-21, 20-22 to world number three Li in a gruelling semifinal that lasted one hour and eight minutes at Putra Stadium.
Saina, who won the India Open Super Series last week, once again failed to come good against Xuerui, who has now beaten the Indian nine times in 11 meetings.
The girl from Hyderabad, who has been on a rampaging run ever since winning the China Open last year, played out of her skin in a match where fortunes fluctuated too often but in the end it was Li, who emerged victorious.
Saina became the world no. 1 for her exploits at the India Open triumph last week and a semifinal finish here will give her 7700 points but Li reaching the finals means the Chinese will regain her no 1 ranking.
Saina, who had beaten Li only on two occasions at the 2010 Singapore Open and 2012 Indonesia Open, started the match on a confident note as she broke off at 6-6 to gradually increase the lead with straight bursts of points.
The Indian led 11-6 at the break and soon moved to 15-7 after the interval. Li�s movement seemed to be a little slow, probably due to the injury she suffered in her right knee. The Chinese tried to reduce the gap but Saina kept her tosses as accurate as possible as they landed just on the baseline. Soon the Indian pocketed the game comfortably to lead 1-0.
The second game was a close contest as lead changed hands too often right from the start after Saina had a narrow 3-1 advantage. After changing to the fast side of the court, Saina found the going tough as Li clawed back quickly and was neck and neck till 10-10, before managing to grab three points at 18-17 to bounce back.
In the decider, Saina grabbed an early 12-7 lead but Li used her height and reach to good effect and soon reeled off five straight points to catch up with the Indian. It then turned out to be an edge-of-the-seat thriller as Saina and Li fought tooth and nail for each point.
Li played some lovely overhead shots and was also good at the nets. The change of side at the break brought Saina back to the fast side and the drift once again affected the game as the match turned into a battle of nerves.
Saina was 19-18 up but Li eventually showed better nerves in a battle of attrition to grab a place at the finals.