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Saina Nehwal's All England loss dashes a billion Indian dreams

Saina Nehwal's All England loss dashes a billion Indian dreams

A heartbroken Saina said it was her lack of focus and nervousness which led to her loss.

Subhasish Dutta
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It was an agonising end to what could have been a historical day for India. On International Women's Day, Saina Nehwal was the cynosure of all Indian eyes and on the cusp of creating history when she was in the final of the prestigious All England Badminton championship - the Wimbledon of Badminton.

Playing in front of a packed house in Birmingham's Barclaycard Arena with the crowd chanting "India, India" and "Come on Saina", the World No. 3 Indian started on a bright note, winning the first game against Spain's Carolina Marin comfortably 21-16 and looked to emulate the legendary Prakash Padukone and her former coach Pullela Gopichand, who won the title in 1980 and 2001, respectively.

What happened next is history. Saina let go of a huge opportunity to script history as she squandered an opening game lead to go down 21-16, 14-21, 7-21 to the reigning world champion in the women's singles final that lasted for little over an hour.

Olympic bronze medallist Saina, who has been competing at the All England since 2007, had never lost to the Spaniard and looked on course for an encore before the World No. 6 scripted a remarkable comeback in the second game to bury the Indian's hopes. Saina threw away a 6-1 cushion in the second game before the Spainard pressed the throttle.

After suffering heartbreaks at the semis of the All England in 2010 and 2013, a billion hopes were riding on the 24-year-old Indian as she geared up for the finals. Although Saina played down expectations before her final but interest was such that former Indian cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar wished her luck on Twitter.

But for the Hyderabadi it was yet another case of so near yet so far for. But what forced the crowd's favourite throw the towel so easily? Was it the burden of great expectations or simply, because she failed to fathom her opponent?

"I just lost focus and began hurrying, which was not right," Saina said after the match. "Playing against top players anything can happen at any stage, and you can always get nervous at some point in time. That's what happened here."

For Saina, who defeated two top Chinese opponents, Wang Yihan and Sun Yu, on her way to the final, being nervous against Carolina was not expected as she has never lost to the Spaniard in her three previous meetings. Her latest victory came in the finals of the Syed Modi International championship at Lucknow in January early this year.

The second game was a tightly contested one with the duo playing some excruciating rallies early on and Saina soon took a healthy 6-1 lead. However, Carolina was not in a mood to give away and reduced the gap to 5-6 but Saina waited for her rival to commit errors and went into the interval with a 11-9 lead.

However, after the break, Carolina, who belongs to a rare breed of expressive badminton players, swung the momentum in her favour as she varied the pace and fought neck and neck in the rallies to quickly get into the lead at 12-11 for the first time in the match. The Spaniard's celebratory shouts were evident of her winning intent.

The Indian's smashes were regularly being picked by Carolina, who used her deceiving shots and sliced smashes to good effect to increase the gap to 17-14. By now, Saina appeared unable to win points and she also made some poor line calls as Carolina sealed the game 21-14.

In the decider, Saina never got back to the rhythm and it was one-way traffic and the more the rallies extended, she hurried to close the points and made errors. Carolina totally routed Saina as her strokes started going wayward, even her service returns went wide and her movement grew slower.

Carolina took a colossal 11-4 lead at the break and in the end, with a down-the-line smash, the Spaniard - the first lefty to win the coveted title after 1995 - broke millions of Indian hearts and stopped Saina from etching her names in history.

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