In a match that broke a billion hearts, India’s Saina Nehwal went down 21-13, 21-13 to World No. 1 Wang Yihan in the Olympics singles semifinals. It was a fairly routine win for the Chinese Wang, and brought an end to Saina’s spirited campaign that had sparked hopes of a gold medal finish.
Nehwal, playing her first-ever Olympics semifinal, fell behind early to her higher-ranked opponent. Yihan took early control of the first game with some aggressive strokeplay, which forced Nehwal on to the defensive for most part of their early exchanges. Yihan, who stormed to a 10-6 lead with some precise smashes and forehands, kept Nehwal on the backfoot till the score reached a lopsided 18-9. Nehwal did manage to come back strongly, with some good net play of her own, as she made it 19-13; she was helped by a few lapses in concentration on part of Yihan too. But Yihan regained her footing in time to close out the first game 21-13 with an easy point.
Come the second set, and Nehwal brought some added urgency to her game, as she fought stroke for stroke to level things up at 8-8; she then even led 11-10. But once again, Yihan proved her superiority, as she made use of sharp angles and cleverly disguised drops to wear out the Indian. The Chinese player won 11 of the last 13 points to pour water over any hopes Saina had of making a comeback. The second game ended with the exact same scoreline as the first, with Yihan winning it 21-13.
For Saina, this result would have come as a bitter blow, but all is not lost for the Indian yet. She can still win a medal for her country if she manages to defeat her opponent in the bronze medal playoff. It’s also worth remembering that Saina is still very young, and will likely have a couple more chances to win an Olympics gold medal for India. For now, though, a billion people would be praying for a bronze.