Beijing, Aug 13 (UNI) At the end it was a heart break. It turned out to be a case of so near yet so far as Saina Nehwal leading 11-3 in the crucial third set squandered the golden chance and lost to Indonesia's Maria Kristin Yulianti in the quarter-final of the women's singles event of the Olympic Badminton competition here today.
With this defeat, Indian challenge came to an end in this discipline in the Games.
In a marathon encounter which lasted 64 minutes and saw the longest first set in this competition so far, Saina lost the match which she should have won.
The Indian played her heart out and enthralled the capacity hall with her tenacious play in the first which she won 28-26 before losing out next two 14-21, 15-21 to see her dream of making it to the podium going up in a smoke.
There was no hint of impending disaster as the 18-year-old Hyderabadi girl established a vital and what at one stage looked like a winning lead, 11-3 in the last set but suddenly every thing went haywire as Maria came back strongly captalising on her rival's unforced errors not only to erase the lead but eventually won the match.
''I don't know what happened in the last game, may be I was tired. I made a lot of mistakes and left some of her shots that landed in,'' Saina told mediapersons after her defeat.
She said she was not overawed by the fact that she was playing in the Olympic quarter final in her debut, ''I was just playing my game, I was not thinking about winning or any thing else.'' Saina ranked 15th in the world admitted that she lost the match which was in her grasp, ''Over all it was good match but the fact remains that match was mine.'' The Indian was playing her 22-year old Indonesian rival for the first time and both started cautiously but as the game progressed the first set developed into a nerve wrecking tussle.
Saina took 15-9 lead but could not hold on to the six point advantage as world number 21 Maria came back strongly.
However, the Indian kept the lead which increased and decreased every time the service changed.
The Hyderabadi girl looked all set when she led 20-16, but fragile booking Indonesian showed that appearance can be deceptive with her superb fighting qualities.
She not only levelled the score to 20-20 but from there after made the set more intriguing as the lead started change hands rapidly, from 21-20 it became 21-21, 23-23, 24-24, 26-26 and then 27-26 and at this juncture the Indonesia sent the return wide enabling Saina win the set 28-26 in 28 minutes.
The energy sapping first round left both the players tired and it started showing in the second set. In the first, Saina was all power and energy as she unleashed flurry of strong smashes and shots forcing her rival to be on the defensive most of the time.
Maria tried to slow down the pace of the encounter and made Saina run around the court with soft returns and the Indian found it hard to rush to the net time and again.
''I could not continue rallying, I was tired and I left too many shuttles because there was a slight drift from that side of the court,'' was Saina's candid admission.
The side effects of the first set were more visible on the Indian as she could hardly match her opponent in the second and lost it 14-21 in 17 minutes.
But the start of the crucial third set saw a recharged Saina back on the court as she won eight points in a row to take 11-3 lead and it looked a matter of time for the Indian to win the set but Maria had other plans.
She once again displayed her fighting prowess with a strong rally to reduce the gap 9-11 and after that she slowly started playing the mind game and sorted out the Indian who was getting fatigued.
Maria overtook the Indian as after trailing 10-12 with some deaf placements and good returns took nine points on trot to go up 19-12 and after that never looked back.
An exhausted Saina tried to battle it but it was a case of being too little too late and she lost the third set 15-21 in 19 minutes.
Asked whether she became overconfident after taking 11-3 lead in the decider, Saina replied, ''No question of being overconfident.
In such level of competitions, you can not even relax at match point.'' She, however, added, ''Match turned so fast that I could not realise what happened, I lost a bit of focus and lost the match.
''It would have been great if I had made it to the semis but still I played my best,'' she added.
UNI HSB RAR RN1119