In one of the biggest upsets for the Indian Olympic contingent, medal hope Saina Nehwal today crashed out of the Rio Games after suffering an upset straight-game loss against lower-ranked Maria Ulitina of Ukraine in her second Group G match here today.
The London Olympics bronze medallist and world no. 5 who had inflammation on her right knee, lost 18-21 19-21 to World No. 61 Maria in a match that lasted 39 minutes at the pavillion 4 Riocentre here.
The Indian star, a former world no. 1, had won the opening match against Brazil’s Vicente Lohaynny on August 11.
Maria, who had beaten Vicente in the opening match, reached the knockout stage from Group G at the expense of Saina and the Brazilian girl.
Saina looked totally rusty as she squandered an initial 6-1 lead to allow Maria level the scores at 8-8 with the Indian burying the shuttle in the net.
The Ukraine player posed a lot of questions as Saina missed a few shots in the forecourt and back. The Indian, however, managed to enter the short break 11-9 in front with a drop which Maria could not return from the forecourt.
Maria caught up again at 13-13 when Saina hit long. She infact took a slender lead at 16-15 and 17-16 as Saina struggled with her movements.
With Saina continuing to be sluggish, Maria reached 19-17 and then reached game point with a cross court round-the-head smash which caught Saina napping.
The Indian then hit wide to allow Maria earn the bragging rights after clinching the opening game.
In the second game, Maria used her height to good use as she played some sharp and stiff smashes and half smashes which Saina failed to negotiate. The Indian mamaged to stay ahead with a slender 11-10 lead at the break.
But Maria dominated the pace of the rallies even as Saina seemed restricted in her movement as the Ukraine player led 14-13.
The script didn’t change much after that as Maria managed to reach match point with a cross court smash and then entered the knock-out pre-quarter final round with a lucky net chord.