Saina Nehwal after her victory, in Jakarta, on Sunday
New Delhi: Indian badminton ace Saina Nehwal served a warning to the formidable Chinese ahead of next month’s Olympics as she clinched her third Indonesia Open Super Series title beating world No. 3 Xuerui Li in a see-saw summit clash in Jakarta on Sunday.
The fifth-seeded Indian, who had won the Thailand Open last week, defeated China’s Li 13-21, 22-20, 21-19 in an hour and four minutes to lift her third title of the year -- the first being the Swiss Open.
“It was a really, really tough and I love the crowd here. It's really nice here. Whenever I enter the court, I feel like a champion here,” said the world No. 5, 22-year-old, who had earlier clinched this title in 2009 and 2010 and was a runner-up last year.
It was a battle of attrition for Saina against an opponent to whom she had lost four times and won just once — that too way back in 2010 — previously.
The start was ominous for Saina as she conceded four successive points. The two players seemed engaged in a battle of smashes and were at par with each other when it came to baseline rallies.
But it was the netplay in which Li enjoyed the upperhand with her delicate winners that Saina found hard to counter in the opening game.
Li took an 11-6 lead with her seventh smash winner of the game leaving Saina with a lot of catching up to do. The Chinese girl’s strategy was to engage Saina in aggressive baseline rallies before forcing her to commit errors from close range.
The exhaustion of a couple of hard-fought matches in the previous rounds also showed on Saina’s on-court movement and her returns seemed sluggish.The Indian could not breach the lead that Li had taken at the very start and although the Chinese floundered a bit in the middle of the game, Saina failed to capitalise and lost the opener in 15 minutes. In all, Li sent down 13 smash winners against Saina’s eight.
Li’s superior netplay clinched seven points for her while Saina settled for just four in the opening game. In the second game, Saina staged a recovery and finally got into the lead at 7-4 after a couple of miscued shots by the fourth seeded Li at the far court.
Fortunes fluctuated sharply in the exhausting second game. An erratic Saina, who led 11-7 and 18-14 at one stage, lost her way for a while before saving a championship point at 18-20 and going on to win the game and stay afloat in the match.
Saina played to her strength, smashing 16 winners as Li’s baseline game became erratic even though she kept breathing down the Indian’s neck .
Statistically, there was hardly anything to separate the two players, but a few errors in judgement by Li proved decisive.
Pumped up after equalising, Saina started off dominantly in the decisive third game and took a 5-2 lead. But after that it became a see-saw battle with Saina trailing 10-11.
But the Indian managed to nose ahead, grabbing a 19-16 lead. However, Saina let slip a championship point before clinching the game, match and the trophy when Li smashed a backhand stroke into the net.
The national coach said there are a few aspects of Saina’s game that need to be worked upon as she continues her build-up to the Olympics .