Shixian Wang dismantled Saina Nehwal’s game in just over 40 minutes to pack her out of the Australian Open, denying the Indian a title defense after a tame 21-15, 21-13 exit in the quarterfinals at Sydney.
The World No.1 never really found her bearings against the former top-ranked Chinese, who moved fluidly and prevailed in the longer rallies against the Indian who looked off-colour in mounting a counter.
At 14-all in the opening set, Nehwal had a chance to reverse the momentum but found Shixian’s awkward lengths a tad too uncomfortable as she conceded points in a bunch. Six straight points in short rallies gave the Chinese the first set lead, as Nehwal’s unforced errors ballooned up. The Indian seemed to have flattened out in her resistance as Shixian managed to end up as the only Chinese of the top-three to advance to the semis with both Xuerui Li and Yihan Wang exiting.
For the Indian who picked the first-ever Australian Super Series crown last season, the comeback ought to have begun at 9-8 in the second set. Nehwal chased down shuttles on both flanks at the net corners and kept them in play for a rally that spanned over 30 exchanges. It was the sort of point that makes or breaks a challenge and when she hit it long at the end of some speedy scurrying, it was the beginning of the end of Nehwal’s challenge. Shixian would again collect five straight points in a row after grabbing the lead on either side of the changeover and then race to victory increasing the tempo of the game before Nehwal could even piece her plan together. The Saina-Shixian rivalry is now a dozen-matches old, the two tied at 6 matches apiece. The Indian has played 12 matches — the most — with two other opponents Bae Yeon Ju and Julianne Schenk.
However, against the similarly resilient Chinese, Nehwal has traded wins and losses without either ever asserting their dominance. The Chinese though, currently ranked 6th — she rallies endlessly not unlike Nehwal — has won 5 of their last 7 exchanges.
A hop across to Indonesia — Saina Nehwal’s most successful venue over the years — will see her look to salvage big points at the Premier event next week. A possible second round clash with PV Sindhu looms ahead, though Nehwal would want to go deeper into the draw with all the Top 10 gunning for the points on offer. There’s Thai Nichaon Jindapon in the first round and also a probable quarters face off with Shixian on either side of the hyped Saina-Sindhu battle.