Badminton: Nehwal misses an unexpected last chance

Recent injuries took their toll on India's Saina Nehwal.
Recent injuries took their toll on India's Saina Nehwal.PHOTO: AFP

DUBAI (AFP) - Saina Nehwal said her body had let her down as she missed out on an unexpected place in the Super Series semi-finals on Friday.

The former world No. 1 from India got the chance to progress against the odds because Carolina Marin, the world champion and favourite to win the Super Series finals for the first time, was pushed to the edge of exit by a second defeat in two days.

But when Nehwal was faced with an opponent, the former holder Tai Tzu Ying, who had not won a game let alone a match in her two previous encounters, her physical resources failed her as she fell to a painful 16-21, 21-18, 21-14 loss.

Just a handful of extra points in the second game, in which Nehwal repaired an eight-point deficit to reach 16-16, would have scraped her through.

Instead, it was uncomfortable to watch her attempts at dragging her heavy limbs around the court as the effects of recent injuries took their toll.

"I thought I could make it but my legs just wouldn't let me," she said. "I've not been able to train since the China Open three weeks ago and after the first game I could feel I was getting tired.

"It was a very, very big match and it was tough. But I am happy with how I tried. And I will look back on what's been a very good year."

It means Marin could yet win the Super Series title for the first time, despite a 21-9, 21-15 loss earlier on Friday to the almost overlooked but brilliantly mobile Japanese player Nozomi Okuhara, which it seemed might have put paid to her chances.

This followed the Spaniard's stunning three-game loss to Nehwal on Thursday, an encounter which may have undermined her belief that she can deliver her best in Dubai in slowish conditions which do not suit her attack-minded game.

Her formidable smash hardly ever found the floor and after one long rally which Marin nearly but not quite won several times, she ended flat on her back for several seconds. This left Okuhara 13-11 up, and after her third straight win she announced that she was just trotting off for a bit more training as she really hoped to get still fitter.

Okuhara and Marin will be joined in the semi-finals by Wang Yihan, the former world champion from China who did not need to win to qualify, and Ratchanok Intanon, the former world champion from Thailand, who played enterprisingly well to deny Wang Shixian, the former world No. 1 from China, by 21-14, 21-19.

The men's semi-finalists are Chen Long, the titleholder and world champion from China, Kento Momota of Japan, and two Danes, Jan Jorgensen, the world No. 2, and Viktor Axelsen, the world No. 6.

Chen completed his unbeaten three-match sequence with a 21-14, 21-17 win over Jorgensen. As both were already sure of qualifying they just "enjoyed themselves out there," Chen said.

That did not prevent him from accelerating impressively from a 10-13 deficit to win the first game, or from producing another well-timed surge of five points out of six in the middle of the second game, which ensured his control of the match. He still looks an odds on favourite.

Earlier the tournament saw a premature exit for Zhao Yunlei, the Olympic champion in both women's and mixed doubles, with a knee injury, ending hopes of Super Series titles here for her great partnerships with Tian Qing and Zhang Nan.