Saina faces formidable rival in quarters
When Saina Nehwal takes on Li Xuerui today, the weight of recent history will be heavy on her mind.
The Chinese world No.5 is one of the fastest-improving players on the circuit, and has given Saina plenty of trouble. Xuerui holds a 3-1 head-to-head record, and goes into the match as a favourite. Her reach and sharp attacking strokes will keep Saina on her toes thoughout the match, and the Indian will look to use her netgame and flicks and body attack to keep the Chinese from getting under the shuttle.
Another thing that will lurk at the back of Saina’s mind is her recent record against Chinese players. After a spectacular 2010, the last year has seen her fall time after time to Chinese opponents such as Wang Yihang, Wang Xin, Jiang Yanjiao and Xuerui herself. She will be keen to overturn that unsavoury record, but Xuerui will not make it easy for her. The Chinese girl has had a spectacular rise to world No.5, having lurked in the top 16 for the most part of 2011.
Their first match-up was in 2010 at New Delhi, during the Asian Championships semifinals. Saina was favoured to win, and nobody had heard of Xuerui. However, the lanky Chinese girl decimated her Indian rival in the semis and went on to win the title.
Saina took revenge within a couple of months at the Singapore Open, but in their last two meetings, it is Xuerui who has emerged victorious. Their last encounter was an amazing match, with Xuerui prevailing in the tightest of margins, 21-18 30-29, at the French Open last year.
Saina will have to be at her best on Friday if she has to overcome the fast-rising youngster. Xuerui, as an upcoming player, is less burdened by pressure, and can afford to play freely.