Birmingham: Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal's quest for becoming the first Indian woman to win the most prestigious All England badminton championship ended in agony after she suffered a heart-breaking loss to Spain's Carolina Marin in the summit clash here today.
The World No. 3 Indian 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, thus, failed to emulate her long-time coach Pullella Gopichand (2001) and legendary Prakash Padukone (1980), who had won the prestigious title in the past.
Saina, who has been competing at the All England since 2007, had never lost to Carolina and looked on course for an encore before the World No. 6 Spaniard scripted a remarkable comeback in the second game to put paid to the Indian's hopes at the Barclaycard Arena.
A billion hopes rode on Saina as she geared up for the finals with cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar also wishing her luck through social networking site twitter, but the Indian ace failed to live up to the expectation.
After suffering heartbreaks at the semifinals of the event in 2010 and 2013, it was yet another case of so near yet so far for the girl from Hyderabad, who has at least 16 international titles in her kitty.
After dominating the opening game completely, Saina was leading 11-9 in the second but lost steam after the break, as Carolina fought back brilliantly and bagged eight out of the last nine points.
In the decider, Carolina stamped her authority with her sharp smashes and better movement to completely make it a one-sided contest as Saina could only watch her hopes went up in smoke.
Saina, who had defeated Carolina in the finals of the Syed Modi International championship at Lucknow in January early this year, started as the hot favourite.
Sporting a black dress, Saina started off with an unforced error but soon brought out her power-packed smashes to lead 4-2. The left handed Carolina conceded points in unforced errors to allow Saina lead 8-4 but every time the Spaniard won a point her celebration was vocal, perhaps to put mental pressure on the Indian.
Saina exploited the chinks in Carolina's defence as she drew her close to the net and gathered points to go into the break with a 11-6 lead.
Carolina showed her brilliance through her exceptional smashes and soft touches at the nets but they faded in front of Saina's brilliance as the Indian led 14-8.
Carolina lacked the variety or deception to trouble Saina as she moved into game point at 20-11 when her rival found the net. The Spaniard, however, was not going to give it away easily as she saved four straight game points before the Indian closed it with a brutal smash.
The second game saw the duo playing some excruciating rallies early on but Saina's dominance was written all over it as the Indian led 6-1. Carolina 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.
After the break, Carolina swung the momentum in her favour as she varied the pace and fought fire with fire in the rallies to quickly get into the lead at 12-11 for the first time in the match.
The Spaniard increased the gap to 17-14 with the help of better placement and accurate strokes. She moved into a six game point advantage with a smash and then roared back into the contest when the Indian hit wide.
In the decider, Carolina once again led 3-1 early on and soon zoomed to 6-2 as there was a visible change in Saina's demeanour. Her strokes started going wayward, even her service returns went wide and her movement grew slower.
Carolina's smashes found the Indian napping on more than one occasion and another unforced error meant the Spaniard was leading 11-4 at the break.
The pressure of playing in the finals probably got to her as Saina's game crumbled inexplicably. In the end, it was a down-the-line smash from Carolina, which put the lid on her All England dreams.