In a sensational upset at the India Open Super Series, World No.4 and top seed Saina Nehwal made a tearful first round exit going down 17-21, 19-21 to Japanese Ai Goto at the Siri Fort Sports Complex here on Wednesday. A shattered Saina wept uncontrollably at the warm-up area after the defeat before gathering herself to speak to shell-shocked mediapersons.
"What can I say. It was just not my day. I don't know what happened.
"It is very disappointing. She played so well and she was very confident. All her strokes were coming off. I was not moving fast. Maybe I was not prepared, not confident, everything just happened so fast," said Saina, who was at loss to explain those 34 minutes of her stunning defeat.
Saina, however, said it had nothing to do with her ankle injury that had troubled her in the last couple of months. "I don't think so."
Saina's loss overshadowed two big upsets of the day in the men's singles, both by the Indians. Sourabh Verma, a qualifier, upset Sony Dwi Kuncoro of Indonesia 21-18, 21-19 in the morning session and Gurusai Datt then kept his nerve to win a thrilling encounter against World No. 5 and fourth seed Thailand's Boonsak Ponsana 22-20, 18-21, 21-19.
But day's end silenced the cheering fans. It was the same place where six months ago Saina recorded a memorable victory by claiming the Commonwealth Games gold in front of a packed home crowd.
There were only a handful of fans present at the stadium and now with Saina's first day loss, the turnout is not expected to gather momentum.
It was not that Saina had not played Goto before. She had beaten her thrice but she admitted that she was surprised with her level of improvement.
"I played her a year back. But I would always beat her easily. There is a lot of improvement in her game. She was retrieving everything. Her drop shots and half court smashes were good," said Saina.
The Japanese led from the start in the first game before Saina caught up at 10-all. But the Goto surged ahead with three straight points and consolidated the lead.
Her deft touch at the net, particularly her drop shots were the most effective. She made Saina run around and dictate the points.
Saina looked good in the second game and led 8-5 but a resilient Goto reeled off three points to level 8-all.
From then on it was a neck and neck battle, but Goto looked in command. Stroke after stroke the match slipped out of Saina's hand.
In the Badminton Asian Championship last year Saina was upset by Li Xuerui in the semifinal. But she conquered the turf at the Commonwealth Games to defy the belief that she is prone to choke under pressure at home.
An elated Goto said she had prepared well for the big battle.
"I was very focused. I knew that she would be under pressure playing at home and I need to give my best shot," Goto, who does not know English, said through her coach.
With Saina's loss, all the five Indian women's singles players are out of the tournament.
Indian men fared better with Sourabh and Datt pulling off two big upsets of the day. The two youngster made the most of the country hosting its first Super Series event and showed resolve in beating their experienced opponents.
Sourabh got past the seasoned Sony, a former World No.3 and a bronze medallist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, in 41 minutes.
"It is my biggest win. I was not intimidated by his stature. I just wanted to give my best. I am glad that I began with a victory," said Sourabh.
Datt showed remarkable guts during his victory over Boonsak. "It is the first time that I have beaten a top-8 player and it will do a world of good to my confidence," Datt said.
"I have always played close matches against top players but I needed to finish the matches. And victories such as these are something that I was waiting for.
Only other Indian to proceed in the men's singles was Parupalli Kashyap, who beat Slovakian Michal Matejka 21-7, 21-15. Kashyap would next meet second seeded Indonesian Taufiq Hidayat.
Anup Sridhar, Arvind Bhat, Anand Pawar, Sai Praneeth, H.S. Prannoy and Ajay Jayram, who gave a fright to World No.1 Lee Chong Wei going down 19-21, 18-21, all lost.
Pawar gave a tough fight to Japanese Sho Sasaki but lost 21-19, 17-21, 12-21 while Sridhar lost to Taufiq 13-21, 5-21.
Bhat lost to South Korean Sung Hwan Park 14-21, 16-21 while Prannoy went down to Wan Ho Shon of South Korea 14-21, 12-21.
Another seasoned campaigner Peter Gade brilliantly came back from the brink saving three matchpoints to beat Kazushi Yamada of Japan 13-21, 22-20, 21-8.
The other upset in the men's singles was Japanese Takuma Ueda, who got the better of fifth seed Simon Santoso of Indonesia 21-13, 22-29.
In the women's singles, Aditi Mutatkar was no match for fourth-seeded Pui Yin Yip of Hong Kong and went down 14-21, 8-21. Trupti Murgune, too, sank without a trace Aprilla Yuswandari 12-21, 5-21.
In mixed doubles, Akshay Dewalkar and Pradnya Gadre beat Japanese Noriyasu Hirata and Miyuki Maeda 21-17, 21-17 while Tarun Konia and Ashwini Ponnapa went down to Malaysian Soon Chan Peng and Goh Liu Ying 21-23, 10-21.