Top seed Saina Nehwal’s campaign came to a grinding halt at the $120,000 Macau Open Grand Prix Gold as she bowed out in the quarter-finals on Friday. After losing the first game, the World No. 10 fought back in the second game only to fall short in the end as the 226th ranked Zhang Yiman came back for a 21-12, 21-17 victory. The match lasted 35 minutes.
The quarter-final contest gives further proof that Saina Nehwal still needs a lot more work to get back to the top echelons where she once belonged. Less than three months after having a knee surgery, the 26-year-old returned to the circuit.
Even though it was apparently deemed a tad too early, the shuttle queen rigorously worked with her physio Heath Matthews to get back into shape. That gave her confidence to make a comeback at the China Open in mid-November.
She didn’t last long at the tournament where she had made the final for the past two years, winning in 2014. After the first round exit, she followed it up with a quarter-final show at the Hong Kong Open the very next week.
A comeback from surgery is always tough and every player needs a lot of time to get back the feel of high-level competition. Since Saina resumed playing competitively, she played six three-game matches in a row en route to the Macau Open quarter-finals.
There has never been any dearth of her fighting spirit and that is what has helped her rack up the wins the last couple of weeks. However, Nehwal is still far from her best and has to up her languid pace and retrieving skills which the 19-year-old Zhang Yiman took advantage of in Macau on Friday.
Saina remained close to Yiman's heels till 8-9 after which the teenager extended her lead to 13-8 very soon. Errors at crucial junctures did not help Saina’s cause as the Chinese wrapped up the opening game 21-12.
In a blazing start to the second game, Nehwal surged to 6-0, looking very much in command. However, she failed to keep the surging Chinese at bay, who continuously kept on troubling her with her forehand crosscourt shots.
Yiman inched ahead at 9-8 only to see Saina coming back for 11-11. But that was the last time the Indian was at par with Yiman, who soon soared to 18-12 before having four match points at 20-16. After Nehwal saved one, the Chinese closed out the win with an angular drop directed at Saina's feet.