Bae Seung Hee gives her a stiff workout in the second game
Dev S Sukumar. Birmingham
March 11: Saina Nehwal powered into the quarterfinals of the All England Badminton Championships, but not without withstanding a feisty challenge from a relatively-unknown Korean. Her 21-11 22-20 result over Bae Seung Hee gives her a date with either Julianne Schenk of Germany or qualifier Bae Youn Joo, also of Korea. No other Indian remains in the draw as Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas were outclassed 21-12 21-6 by world championships silver medallists Lee Yong Dae/ Jung Jae Sung of Korea. The mixed doubles pair of Jwala Gutta/ V Diju lost late on Wednesday night to the world champions Thomas Laybourn/ Kamilla Rytter-Juhl of Denmark.
Saina looked untroubled through most of the first set, but the second was a tense battle. Her success is taken for granted in India, but Thursday’s match was an example of the difficulties of top-level badminton, for the Korean, who is just an early entrant to the international circuit, tested the Indian with her resolve. There were no easy points, not even on the Indian’s feared smash, for the big hits kept coming back.
Points were neck-and-neck all the way, with not even a difference of two. Saina unleashed her big shots as often as she could, but most were within range of the Korean; it was only when the Indian went for the flanks that the points went her way. Eventually, it was her composure under pressure that helped her close it out in straight games.
“I’ve never played her before, that’s why it was difficult,” Saina said. “All the Koreans are good rally players. I had some problems putting away the smashes because her defence was so good. I’m just happy that it didn’t go to a third game. It was quite tense.”
Sanave-Rupesh fall short
Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas are India’s most accomplished men’s doubles pair; they have had an impressive run over the last year, with Grand Prix wins at Bitburger and New Zealand. On Thursday they faced the formidable Lee Yong Dae and Jung Jae Sung, runners-up at the World Championships in India, and it was a good opportunity to see the level of India’s men’s doubles.
The Koreans not only had an answer to everything the Indians threw at them; they played without having to depend on their full pace or arsenal of big shots.
Jung Jae Sung is a powerful hitter from the back-court, but on the day the Koreans relied on fast counters and moving the Indians around. They defended easily when the Indians attacked, and the inability of Rupesh and Sanave to hit through them was starkly evident. Rupesh struggled for an answer when he came off. “We just couldn’t settle in,” he said. “Whenever we lifted the shuttle it went out, so it was hard to contain them.”
In any case, there was no shame in losing to a classy pair; just more lessons on the distance that needs to be bridged.
Saina for charity
Saina Nehwal will be part of a new charity initiative in badminton. Called ‘Solibad: Badminton Without Borders’, the foundation will be launched today by some high-profile names. Indonesian superstar Taufik Hidayat, Malaysia’s Koo Kien Keat, England’s Nathan Robertson, Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen and France’s Pi Hongyan are part of the line-up that will announce its launch. All are top-ten players and extremely popular in their home countries and abroad. Saina confirmed to DNA that she will be its India ambassador.
Solibad, a brainchild of French badminton photojournalist Raphael Sachetat, seeks to raise funds for orphanages with the help of the badminton community, by auctioning players’ equipment. It will initially work in Bali, Kuala Lumpur and Haiti. Sachetat says Saina’s presence will help them launch a chapter in India as well.