Playing close to perfection, says Saina; strategy of choosing fewer tournaments has begun paying off
Dev S Sukumar
Singapore: It took a year, but Saina Nehwal finally replicated the feat that she had achieved last June – a Super Series title win. The top seeded Indian dismissed the challenge of surprise finalist Tzu Ying Tai of Taipei 21-18 21-15 to win the Singapore Open Super Series on Sunday.
“I’m very happy, especially because I’ve won back-to-back titles,” said Saina, on phone from Singapore. “She was a qualifier, but she was very quick and attacking. I was shaky initially, but once I settled down I slowed down the pace.”
Saina was never threatened, although she had to close down an 8-15 deficit to level at 16-all in the first game. The Indian took it comfortably at 21-18. In the second, she led from start to finish.
“Since December, she has had very good results,” said her coach Gopichand. “In this format, there aren’t many with her kind of consistency.”
If the Indonesian Open was the breakthrough result at the highest level for the Indian, Sunday’s Singapore Open triumph was equally significant – for it was a reiteration that a Super Series title was no one-off thing for the Indian.
Since that momentous triumph at Indonesia a year ago, one fact troubled followers of the game – Saina had had lost each of her eight matches to Chinese opposition. At the Badminton Asia Championships in New Delhi in late March, her vanquisher was a virtual unknown – Li Xuerui, who went on to take the title.
But Saina herself wasn’t worried. Most of the losses had come in tough three-game encounters, and as she was to say, “It was just a matter of one win. I never lost hope. All the Chinese I lost to were very good – and I was losing in close matches.”
The reversal came with a win over Xuerui herself, in the quarterfinals of the Singapore Open. “It was a bit of a relief,” said Saina. “But at the Asian Championships I was playing Xuerui for the first time. This time I watched her (second round match) and noticed that she had a pretty straightforward game. She basically has some down-the-line and parallel strokes, so I kept it simple.” Once the pattern was reversed and confidence regained, there was no stopping the Indian.
With a second Super Series title in her pocket, Saina can approach the rest of the year with renewed zeal. Her strategy, at the beginning of the year, was to ignore ranking points and focus her energies on premier tournaments. That seems to be working — since December, she has won three titles (including two in India), and has reached the semis of two majors. With the World Championships, Commonwealth and Asian Games coming up, her preparation couldn’t have been better. “Yes, I feel I’m in a zone, playing close to perfect,” said Saina. “I’ve had a lot of time to train, and focus on fitness. Earlier, I used to struggle while rallying, but now I can run much more. The graph is going up. I’m not scared of anything.”
MS: 7-Sony Dwi Kuncoro (Ina) bt 4-Boonsak Ponsana (Tha) 21-16 21-16
WS: 1-Saina Nehwal (Ind) bt Tzu Ying Tai (Tpe) 21-18 21-15
MD: Fang Min/ Lee Sheng (Tpe) bt Howard Bach/ Tony Gunawan (USA) 21-14 21-15
WD: Shinta Sari/ Yao Lei (Sing) bt Kim Min Jung/ Lee Hyo Jung (Kor) 21-17 22-20
MXD: Thomas Laybourn/ Kamilla Rytter-Juhl (Den) bt Nova Widianto/ Lilyana Natsir (Ina) 21-12 21-15