The home challenge at the 2014 India Open ended on Friday as Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap went down in straight games in their quarterfinal matches. Nehwal lost 21-16 21-14 to Chinese World No.2 Wang Yihan, while Kashyap, who only had World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei in front of him, went down 21-15 21-13.
Wang with a 7-1 record againt Nehwal going into their quarterfinal on Friday, was the odds-on favourite. Facing an opponent with a deceptive back court game, quick hands at the net and a powerful smash from anywhere on court, Nehwal’s plan was clear. Her best chance would be to utilise her superior movement against the lanky Wang. The Indian needed to force points into toe-to-toe rallies and try and take control there.
But while Nehwal clearly had done her homework, she was unable to execute it with the perfection that a win against a top opponent demanded.
Nehwal, indeed, began the match promisingly. She took the first point after an exchange that saw her vary the pace on the shuttle before eventually catching Wang stranded on the mid court. However the very next point saw Wang equalise after Nehwal made a return error. A powerful smash gave Nehwal the lead again but an attempt to lift the shuttle from too close to the net made it 2-2.
This pattern would be repeated for much of the match. When Nehwal tried to push a little bit harder to try and get an advantageous opening, that little extra effort she was putting in would result in an error. When she would appear to take control of a rally, she would falter with the finishing.
When Nehwal’s gameplan came through though, Wang looked in trouble. In the middle of the first game, a perfectly placed drop shot caught Wang slow to her lunge and set up the winner.
It was an all-or-nothing approach Nehwal was going with and she needed a bit of luck to pull it off. But it was the Chinese who got lucky on a couple of occasions with net cords that fell in her favour. Nehwal made two challenges over line calls but both went against her.
Additionally the strategy meant that when Nehwal got a few points wrong in a row, the effect snowballed. She now had to take even more risks just to keep pace with Wang while her opponent could play it safe and wait for an error. 14-12 in the first game in the favour of the Chinese soon became 18-12. Appropriately , the Chinese took the first game when
Nehwal with an open court to aim at, sent a smash wide. The fact that Nehwal was forced to play the tightest of net shots and find the tightest of angles were componded by the fact that Wang was playing with her usual class. She mixed up her half smashes with drops with Nehwal rarely able to guess where her clears from the back court were going to land.
Putting on a show
The second game in particular saw Wang putting on an exhibition. She quickly ran up a 11-4 lead and got to 19-9 with a rally that had Nehwal scampering this way and that even as Wang steadily built up her advantage before finishing off her opponent. Nehwal got a few cheap points from there but the result was never in much doubt as Wang emphatically sealed the match with a smash which landed at Nehwal’s feet.
Throughout the course of the tournament so far, Lee Chong Wei has said he has few expectations from the India Open Super Series and is only looking to enjoy himself. The Malaysian World No. 1 looked to be doing just that as he played the showman in his one sided win. There was a hint of playfulness in the performance as Chong Wei would open up a gap, which Kashyap would manfully bridge. But just when the Indian had a chance Chong Wei would nonchalantly step on the gas to leave the Indian behind. Kashyap’s hopes would have been to catch the Malaysian in one of these moments of complacency.
His chance came when after trailing 11-6, he had set up a smash that would level things at 15-15. But Kashyap missed the shot and his moment was lost. Chong Wei continued in the same fashion in the second game and there were several moments that will likely be uploaded as trick videos on You Tube. The Malaysian once shaped up to play a smash then turn around and backhanded a lob. In another instance he picked up a smash aimed at his body and lofted it over Kashyap, leaving the Indian befuddled but with a sheepish smile on his face. Even the crowd at Siri Fort, watching the schooling of the last Indian hope stood up and cheered.