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Ratchanok Intanon's brilliance downs Saina Nehwal in All England Open semifinal

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Ratchanok Intanon

Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand broke Indian hearts by beating Saina Nehwal in the semifinal of the All England Open on Saturday.

In a contest that was engrossing at times, but in which Saina Nehwal could not really exert her dominance, Intanon won 21-15 21-19.

Saina is used to dictating terms, but whether it was due to the 73-minute long quarterfinal match, or Intanon’s brilliance, she remained at the receiving end through most of the first game. The second game was much tighter, with Intanon showing signs of exhaustion, but the Thai somehow managed to pull through.

Intanon is a three-time World Junior Champion, the first to win the title three straight times. Just 18 years old, she was early on recognised as a prodigy. The display of her skills in Saturday’s semifinal was breathtaking at times, as she unleashed such a variety of strokes that Saina was left scampering. Intanon was particularly destructive with her smash from the back of the court, delivered crosscourt or down the line with a similar action deep in the court. The accuracy of her shots, with many of her smashes landing on the line, was such that even a tenacious retriever like Saina could do little about it.

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Saina Nehwal

The deception on her underhand strokes, with Intanon delaying the stroke until the last possible moment, meant Saina could not move early and cut off her strokes. The Thai steadily increased her lead from 16-15 onwards, winning the game by flicking over Saina’s head.

Saina is renowned as a fighter, and she played a more forceful game in the second. Unwilling to let Intanon dictate the pace and flow of each rally, she attacked with more verve, and the game was neck-and-neck until the end. The Thai took a 18-14 lead, but she was obviously tiring, and Saina would have known that a third game would have favoured her. The Indian made it 15-18 after an exhausting rally which left Intanon gasping for breath. However, a misjudgement at the baseline gave Intanon two match points, and she converted the second. Indian fans would have been disappointed, but it was the superior skills of Intanon that made the difference on the day.

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