She’s known for her barrage of power strokes from the back-court,but Saina Nehwals quarter-final against Chinese third seed Lu Lan uncharacteristically centred around the net and was decided in the forecourt. Indias world No 9 had raced to a 17-13 lead in the deciding game of the Swiss Open Super Series with her superior game and deft flicks upfront,but the better-experienced Lan raced away with eight points on the trot to win 18-21 21-8 21-17.
Playing within 15 hours of her commanding win over world No 8 and former world champion Lin Zhu in the pre-quarters,Nehwals gameplan followed the same pattern. She employed her drops and smashes to dictate the crucial points in the opening game to go from trailing 9-14 to 17-17,and finally won it 21-18.
But she seemed to be using the second game as a breather,offering little resistance as she went down 8-21. The Indian displayed tremendous accuracy at the net in the third game,taking a 17-13 lead. However,Lan prevailed in the net-exchanges in the latter stages,winning the intense 57-minute battle.
Starting with promise
For Nehwal,the day had begun with promise after her upset-pre-quarterfinal 22-20,11-21,21-11 win over Lin Zhu on Thursday,where the Indian rode the momentum. Jumping to No 9 in the world in rankings on Thursday,Nehwal had celebrated this slight elevation with a dominating win over the Chinese,ranked 8.
Going into the match with an urge to reverse the trend of her recent losses to higher-ranked players,Nehwal had wrestled control of the first game with some confident attacking,and though she lost the second,had gone all out in the third. Having built a steady lead in the decider,she converted the fourth game point against the 24-year-old.
Zhu,a world champion from two years ago,was one of the few Top-10 regulars Nehwal had beaten before at the China Masters in September last year and the Indian was quick to level the head-to-head scores to 2-2 at the first opportunity.
A few days short of turning 19 on March 17,the Indian wasnt blowing celebratory candles just yet,having to play third seed Lan in the last-eight. The action-packed 24 hours in Basel as she beat Lin and lost to Lan both in fiery three-setters are just the start of the bigger battles shell fight as she enters her final year as a teenager.