What started off as promising for Saina Nehwal ended in a major disappointment for the former World No. 1 as she squandered four match points to suffer an agonizing defeat at the hands of Nozomi Okuhara in the quarter-finals of the Korea Open 2018 in Seoul, Korea on Friday. Nehwal, seeded fifth at this Super 500 tournament, looked the better of the two players in this blockbuster encounter, but failed to close out the match in four attempts, eventually going down 21-15, 15-21, 20-22 in 59 minutes.
Saina had a healthy lead of 6-3 in their head-to-head meetings prior to this match, but the 2017 world champion had the measure of Nehwal in their past two meetings, and that too, in three gruelling games. The World No. 8 Japanese was thus the more favoured one to win, going into this match.
However, she struggled to get a grasp of the conditions and looked totally out of sorts in the first game. Frequently missing the lines, she allowed Saina to feel more confident and build a healthy lead.
Producing great angles, the Indian consistently managed to keep the shuttle out of reach of the feisty Japanese. Saina also made it sure that Okuhara does not get a chance to engage her into long rallies.
The tactics worked as the Indian went up to 14-10 and then extended the lead to 19-12, before staving off a brief fightback from Okuhara to get the first game 21-15.
The second game remained at par till 6-6. Okuhara then started looking calmer and seemed to have settled into the match. It got reflected in the next few points as the former All England Open winner started prolonging the rallies and kept moving the Indian all over the court.
From 10-7, Okuhara went up to 14-9 and then needed only one game point to get the second game at 21-15.
Saina came back far more refreshed and rejuvenated in the decider. She started reading Okuhara’s shots better, looked more alert and went full on attack. Okuhara looked to have recoiled back to her first game form as the Indian built an 11-8 advantage at the mid-game interval.
While Okuhara struggled to get a grip of the conditions, Saina handled it better. She quickly moved ahead to 16-11 and then, even as the Japanese won a few points, the steady Nehwal reached match points at 20-16.
It was right then where their fortunes changed. Okuhara became more aggressive. In an attempt to finish the match quickly, Saina went for too much and made errors. That paved the way for Okuhara to come back into the match. She won four points in a row to save all the match points and then displayed her stamina to outrally Saina on her own match point to get the win.
With this loss, the Indian campaign came to an end at this tournament.