Despite being on the losing side at the recent Asian Badminton Championships semifinal, Saina Nehwal displayed one of her best performances in the last few years against Chinese Taipei’s deceptive artist Tai Tzu Ying. Nehwal was refreshingly quick on her feet and seemed to cover the court with a lot more ease. The defeat did hurt the gritty Indian but it has also instilled in her the confidence that she is capable of overcoming Ying.
“I think it was just a matter of the last two points where she was more aggressive and I was caught off guard. That’s what happened in both the games. I was leading both the games and I should have been more alert. I really wanted to win the match. Because somehow I was playing really good and moving well,” Saina said at the felicitation program organised by the Badminton Association of India in the Capital for the Gold Coast winners on Saturday.
The reason for the spring in Saina’s steps is, Christopher Pedra, her new physio whom she roped in after the Indonesia Open in January. Under him, Saina has worked specifically on strengthening the muscles in her legs. The hip and ankle issues seem to have taken a backseat for now.
“I think he deserves a lot of credit. I never thought I could move so well on the court. It was very challenging for me to come out from the injuries.We have improved our strength and conditioning exercises,” Saina said. “I think Chris deserves 60% credit for the Commonwealth Gold and Gopi sir, 30,” the Hyderabadi put it interestingly.
Armed with a new physio and pacier court movement, Saina is confident of getting the better of Ying who has beaten the Indian thrice already this season.
“If you play 20 shots’ rally with her, at least 17 shots will be flicks and good hand stopping movements. One or two more matches, I am sure I can overcome her,” the ever-confident Saina said.
With her all-round, deceptive game the Chinese Taipei star has troubled the best of players on the circuit. India’s top shuttlers PV Sindhu and Commonwealth Games Champion Saina Nehwal are just a few in the long list who have not been able to crack her game so far.
Ying’s latest triumph came after beating Saina in a close semifinal before defeating Chen Yufei in the title decider. Such has been the dominance of Ying over Saina that the last time the Indian beat her was five years back at the Swiss Open.
The deceptive 23-year-old shuttler, who has a 11-5 head-to-head record against Saina, had won an impressive five Super Series titles last season thanks to her incredibly skillful game and is currently the best player on the circuit by a mile.
“It’s just not me, I see almost all players finding it difficult to play against her. All of us struggle against her. She is very tricky. Each shot of hers is deceiving. You will go mad playing her if you aren’t strong enough,” said Saina about the the player who denied her a spot in the finals in Wuhan last month.
Former coach Vimal, who has been observing Saina’s game for more than 15 years, feels that the 28-year-old is finally playing her natural game pain-free at the moment. In September last year, Saina had decided to leave Vimal and return to the Gopichand Academy, a move that has worked in her favour.
“I have no issues with her leaving at all. It is the players’ will. In fact, I am really proud and happy with the way she is playing. Her CWG final and the Asian Championships performances clearly show she is in no pain. If she has no pain, she will play her game. She is not scared of anybody, but injuries . When I saw her Asian Championship semifinal it felt like she has got ridden of the injury aspects,” said Vimal with a beaming smile.
With a World Championship bronze last year and CWG gold this season, Saina seems to have found her footing after a heart-breaking group stage exit in Rio due to knee injury. She can also take confidence from the fact that she has now beaten Sindhu thrice on the trot. The latest being the Gold Coast final 21-18, 23-21 victory. Like always, Saina downplayed any talks of her personal rivalry with the academy-mate, saying she treats Sindhu like any other top opponent.
“It is not about me playing Sindhu or me playing any other opponent. If you see Sung Ji-hyun and Okuhara, I have good records against them. When I play against them, I just try to win it. I definitely have issues with some of the players but with others maybe I am a little more comfortable. Whether it’s Sindhu or any other top-10 player, all are dangerous at the moment. So I always have to be alert.”