Wuhan (China): Indian challenge ended at the Asia Badminton Championship after Saina Nehwal and H S Prannoy went down fighting in the women's and men's singles semifinals here today.
Saina, who had clinched her second gold medal at the Commonwealth Games earlier this month, played out of her skin but could not get past world number two and defending champion Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei, losing 25-27 19-21 in an edge-of-the seat thriller.
World number 10 Prannoy paid the price for being too erratic as he went down 16-21 18-21 to the Olympic champion Chen Long of China in a 52-minute match.
For Saina, it was her eighth straight loss to Tai Tzu in 16 meetings and third defeat of the season. She had lost to her nemesis at the Indonesia Open final and All England Championship this year but unlike those defeats, it turned out to be a thrilling contest today as Saina gave ample display of her new-found confidence and fitness.
In a fast-paced contest where fortunes fluctuated too often, it was Tai Tzu who made a roaring 4-1 start with her delightful touches. She held on to her three-point advantage at 6-3 before a few loose shots from her helped Saina to narrow the gap to one point.
However, a precise Tai grabbed three quick points to lead 9-5 before entering the break at 11-6 after Saina's attempted drop went wide.
After the breather, Saina clawed back at 15-15 with a brilliant angled return. From there on, Saina kept the pressure on her rival to move to 17-17 and grabbed a 18-17 lead for the first time.
Saina held a two game point advantage at 20-18. But Tai Tzu saved one with a drop shot and then Saina made a judgement error to allow Tai Tzu make it 20-20. Saina then send a return long and it was advantage Tai Tzu but she smashed the next one at the net.
The duo continued to look for ways to outwit each other as game points exchanged hands. In the end, Saina wasted four chances, while Tai Tzu converted on her fourth opportunity to pocket the opening game.
In the second game, Saina continued in the same vein, adding power to her smashes and riding on her opponent's errors to grab a 4-3 lead.
Tai Tzu covered the court brilliantly and moved to a 10-7 lead when Saina hit wide. But the Indian unleashed an accurate smash next and with the Taiwanese going out made it 10-9. However, Saina again went out to give a slender 11-9 lead to Tai Tzu at the break.
Tai Tzu continued with her angled returns and moved to a 13-9 lead before moving to 14-11. Saina gathered a few points with her smashes and soon drew parity at 15-15 when Tai Tzu hit the net.
The Indian faltered in a net dribble next before levelling par at 17-17 when Tai Tzu missed the line. Another net stroke going to net gave Saina a 18-17 lead. She gathered another point but lost a referral next as she led 19-18.
At this crucial moment, Saina missed the baseline with her return going out to be at 19-19. She made another judgement error at the back line to give two match points to Tai Tzu and lost the match when she again hit wide.
In the men's singles match, Prannoy started on a positive note as he opened up a 5-2 lead early on but Chen erased the deficit with three quick points. The Indian tried to be patient during the rallies but he struggled to keep the shuttle inside to allow the Chinese keep breathing down his neck.
Prannoy tried to change the pace and angles of his strokes but he faltered in finishing the rallies. The result was that Chen entered the interval with a slender 11-10 lead.
The duo continued engaging in some long rallies with both displaying great athleticism and their repertoire of strokes but Prannoy ended up going wide too often as Chen led 15-11.
Chen judged the shuttles well at the lines while errors continued to pile up for Prannoy, allowing the Chinese to move to 19-14 lead. The Chinese grabbed the game point with a body smash. Prannoy saved two game points, both at the nets, but his lift went wide again as Chen earned the bragging rights.
After the change of sides, Chen once again jumped to a 3-0 lead. Prannoy won a lucky net chord and then smashed to make it 3-3. Prannoy, however, continued to find the going tough. In the end, it was a blind return on the move by Chen which gave him a 11-6 lead at the breather.
The Indian came out with a barrage of smashes to make it 10-11 but Chen once again moved ahead. At 16-18, Prannoy faltered with a return as Chen moved to 19-16. The Indian handed over three match points to Chen, who converted on his second chance to take his place at the final.