Saina Nehwal is set to relinquish her No 1 ranking after ending on the losing side in a gruelling encounter with Olympic champion Li Xuerui in the semifinals of the $500,000 Malaysia Open Super Series.
When the semifinals got underway, there was not much interest about who would reach the final. Saina, after all, was the newly-crowned world No.1 who had ended the Chinese Olympic champion's long reign over the world rankings. When the two met at the Putra Stadium last week, it was more a fight for supremacy over the women's singles rankings.
At the end of a one-hour-seven-minute contest - quite long by badminton standards - and after treating the crowd to some scintillating action in the middle, a half-fit Xuerui prevailed over Saina 13-21, 21-17, 22-20.
The margin of victory may be very small but the manner in which Xuerui won, slicing Saina's lead in slow and steady fashion, and the way she beat fatigue and pain in her right leg before emerging triumphant, will have enhanced the battered morale of the Chinese contingent.
The victory may also be enough to reclaim the No.1 rank. But Xuerui has to do well in next week's Singapore Open to remain on top.
The defending champion will now square up against world champion Carolina Marin of Spain in the summit clash. Marin downed two-time All England champion Shixian Wang of China in straight games 21-17, 24-22.
The loss will rattle Saina a bit but she can take a number of positives from this Malaysian sojourn.
The fact that she played a mentally draining All England and India Open in the last three weeks must have affected her. It is learnt that she is taking a break by pulling out from next week's Singapore Open. The break will surely help her to rectify a few flaws and stay fresh.