Saina Nehwal’s romance with the Indonesian Open continued as the champion shuttler from India quelled a spirited challenge from Chinese Li Xuerui to record a 13-21, 22-20,21-19 in the 64-minute final to clinch her third title in four final appearances in Jakarta on Saturday.
Coming close to the title-triumph in Thailand Open, the star performer from India seemed to have clearly warmed up for the London Olympics next month in style.
“I love the crowd here. I feel like a champion here. I thank all of them for the great support,” Saina remarked later. “I love to keep coming here again and again,” she added.
Sunday’s win over the 21-year-old Li, who is the reigning All England and Asian champion, is symbolic in more than one way for the message was loud and clear from Saina - she is ready for the biggest challenge of her life in the London Games.
The final also saw World No. 5 Saina put on show her familiar traits of fighting from a seemingly lost position and the ability to raise the bar under pressure as was evident by her wonderful display in the decider.
In the first game, the champion shuttler from India got a taste of the cross-court mastery of World No. 3 Li, who showed remarkable agility and great reach to some of the seemingly good returns from Saina.
In fact, Li was in a hurry racing away to a 4-0 lead before Saina pulled back with a decent net game. But, the problem for Indian shuttler was that her opponent came up with a series of impressive cross-court smashes despite missing some simple points at the net. In contrast, Saina was erratic, giving away too many easy points with her backhand deserting at crucial moments. And, it was no surprise when the Chinese girl wrapped up the first game in just 15 minutes.
But, the second game was off to an absorbing tussle with the scores levelled at three-all, four-all before Saina took the lead for the first time in the match. That was the phase when the reigning All England champion from China failed to control her aggression and conceded quite a few points going in for ambitious smashes. To the delight of the Indian camp, Saina changed gear and seemed to be in control changing the pace of the game to take a handsome 12-8 lead.
The second game also saw some wonderful rallies, testing the endurance level of the Indian shuttler. And, Saina rose to the occasion coming up with a great blend of smashes and delectable returns to the deep. This phase also saw Saina pin down her rival to the baseline to pick the gaps with ease.
But, Li did show great fighting qualities to come back strongly from a 14-18 deficit, to level the scores and even surge ahead, attacking Saina’s right corner. At one stage, she was playing for the match point at 20-18 but fumbled badly at the net to give fresh lease of life for the opponent. The Indian was quick to seize on the chance, not only staving off two match-points but scoring three big points including one great backhand smash down the line to clinch the second game in 24 minutes to take the final into the decider.
In the final game, there was little to choose and not surprisingly, both were not as aggressive to start with as they were with the emphasis more on placements rather than on big smashes. The scores were levelled many times before with the one-point lead changing quite frequently.
Saina finally got a vital two-point lead at 17-15 even as Li came up with big overhead smashes. A terrific backhand body smash from Indian saw the opponent struggling to give the former an 18-16 lead. Li’s attempt to pick the left corner was off the mark to give Saina a clear 19-16 lead. But soon, a net chord and a forehand smash by Li saw her reduce the lead to 18-19. Then theChinese saw her backhand land in the net to give Saina two match-points in the decider.
But, Saina was again surprised by the awesome smash from Li which saw the latter save one match-point. A backhand by Li into the net triggered off celebrations by Saina as she wrapped up the match to the delight of the chief coach Pullela Gopi Chand.