Defending champion Saina Nehwal played out her skin before going down narrowly to Olympic Champion Li Xuerui in the hard-fought women's singles semi-final of the Yonex-Sunrise India Open Super Series badminton tournament, here today.
The 26-year-old Indian, who is making a comeback after going through a long recovery from ankle injury, lost 20-22 21-17 19-21 to China's Li in an edge-of-the-seat thriller in the women's singles competition to draw curtains on Indian challenge at the Siri Fort Complex here. It was her 11th lose to the Chinese in 13 meetings.
In a nail-biting contest, Saina matched up to Li in the fast-paced rallies but was not consistent in finishing the rallies.
Li on the other hand, blew hot and cold as some of her cross court half smashes caught Saina off guard but she also faltered with many strokes. In the end it was a couple of accurate strokes which sealed the match for the Chinese in the decider.
Leading 19-18 in the decider, Saina's return went long to help Li make it 19-19 and then the Chinese came with a line-kissing slice to grab one match point, which she sealed when Saina failed to negotiate a serve.
Soon after the loss a disappointed Saina said: "I had big leads but she came back, she was picking up everything. She was maintaining good rallies and was hitting some good shots to the line.
"I can remember the last two points which were crucial in the last game. My service went to the net and one lift which went behind and I made a line error. Those two were not required. She played those points with a lot of confidence.
"I should have won the first game at 20-19. Obviously such matches gives you a lot of confidence but also it can be irritating to miss out. I am good but I know I can be much better. I was not happy yesterday. I took three games yesterday. Today I could have won the first game," said Saina, who will head to Malaysia Open next.
Two-time silver medallist at World Championship, Li said there was not much difference between both of them.
"There is not much difference. I think it is just a few key points which made the difference. Today Saina was playing at home and that puts her under pressure but she also has the support of home crowd. I'm glad to get better off her today," she said.
"It was a tough game. Saina played very well. I was making lot of mistakes and once I was able to overcome my mistakes, I was back in the match.
"Even when I was trailing, I was not looking at the score. The idea was to cut down on my errors and focus on one point at a time. I didn't lose sight. I did my best and tried to seal the moment. I am happy with the way I played today," the Chinese added.
Among others, it was a heartbreak for China's Xue Song, who was stretchered off the court after suffering a ligament tear on his right leg during the semi-final match against Japan's Kento Momota.
The Chinese shuttler was leading 21-17 6-3 against the second seed Kento when he hurt himself while returning a shuttle. Kento will now take on Denmark's Viktor Axelsen, who beat Son Wan Ho of Korea 21-11 21-11.
In another women's singles match, Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon defeated Bae Yeon Ju of Korea 21-8 21-11.
In the thrilling contest between Saina and Li, the Indian opened up a 8-5 lead early on and managed to stave off the challenge from her Chinese opponent till 11-9.
But Li soon managed to draw parity with two quick points and then turned the tables, reaching 16-13.
Saina roared back to level with a superb drop from the back court before Li found the net. The Chinese hit wide again and both were tied at 18-18. Another miscued smash and Saina was leading 19-18.
What followed was an energy-sapping rally that ended with a return, which Saina didn't even try. But the Indian ensured she has the first shot to take advantage as she reached the game point with a smash that Li could only send to the net.
Li then produced a deceptive slice and with Saina hitting wide and then leaving another shot from Li on the right, it was all over.
In the second game, Saina zoomed to a 7-1 lead with Li committing too many unforced errors. The Chinese also faltered with her slices and drops, and Saina led 11-6 at the interval.
Saina produced a couple of accurate down the line smashes even as Li continued to struggle with her strokes. Then all of a sudden, Li gathered a flurry of points to narrow the gap to 14-17.
Another long rally ensued and Saina reached 20-17 when Li found the net. The Indian then grabbed it with a delectable drop to roar back into the contest.
In the decider, Saina once again marched ahead to a 6-2 lead. Li tried to narrow it down to 7-6 but Saina had her nose ahead 11-7 at the break after she engaged in a parallel game with Li.
After the change of sides, Saina continued to dominate the rallies to reach 15-11. But a couple of bad line judgement helped Li to cut down the margin to 13-15.
Leading 18-16, Saina allowed Li to draw parity when she hit the net twice. A deceptive return was cancelled by a long shot before a line kissing slice gave the advantage to Li, who sealed it when Saina failed to negotiate a return.
WD: Nitya Krishinda Maheshwari(INA)/Greysia Polii (INA)  bt Misaki Matsutoma (JPN)/Ayaka Takahasji (JPN) 21-18 19-21 23-21.
WD: Naoko Fukuman(JPN)/Kurumi Yonao(JPN) bt Christinna Pedersen(DEN)/Kamilla Rytter Juhl(DEN) 14-21 22-20 21-17.
MD: Gideon Markus Fernaldi(INA)/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo(INA) bt Shem Goh(MAS)/Wee Kiong Tan(MAS) 21-15 21-17.
MD: Ko Sung Hyun(KOR)/Shin Baek Cheol(KOR)  bt Angga Pratama(INA) /Ricky Karanda Suwardi(INA) 21-18 6-21 21-19.
WS: Bae Yeon Ju(KOR) bt Ratchanok Intanon(THA)  21-8 21-11.
WS: Li0 Xuerui(CHN)  bt Saina Nehwal(IND)  22-20 17-21 21-19.
MS: Viktor Axelsen(DEN)  bt Son Wan Ho(KOR) 21-11 21-11.
MS: Xue Song(CHN) vs Kento Momota(JPN)  17-21 3-6 Ret.
XD: Bodin Issara(THA)/Savitree Amitrapai(THA) bt Riky Widianto(INA)/Puspita Richi Dili(INA) 21-18 13-21 21-7.
XD: Lu Kai(CHN)/Huang Yaqiong(CHN)  bt Ko Sung Hyun(KOR) /Kim Ha Na(KOR) 21-17 17-21 21-18.