Hong Kong Open: Saina wraps it in style

Having won three Super Series titles in five appearances, Saina emerges most successful women’s singles player

Dev S Sukumar. Bangalore

To a country long accustomed to dominating badminton — especially the women’s events – China has a problem on its hands. It’s called Saina Nehwal.
Its post-Beijing Olympics generation of women’s singles players, led by Asian Games champion Wang Shixian, and dubbed ‘The Little Flowers’ – suffered a blow on Saturday as Saina came from a game down to beat Shixian in the last Super Series event of 2010. As the 12-event Super Series (SS) circuit ended, the Indian had accomplished a rare feat – she had won more SS titles (three) than any other player, despite playing in only five of those.
In a year in which China overwhelmed opposition at both the World Championships and the Asian Games, the Hong Kong Super Series provided further indication that the Little Flower generation might not have it all their way, like the generation of Zhang Ning and Xie Xingfang that gave them most of the top prizes in women’s singles over the first eight years of the decade.
The ‘Little Flowers’ – essentially a bunch of Wangs (Wang Shixian, Wang Xin, Wang Lin, Wang Yihan), and the odd Lu (Lu Lan) and Jiang (Yanjiao) – seemed to have found their best bet in Shixian, who won the Swiss Open Super Series and the prestigious Asian Games gold medal. A steady, all-round player, comfortable with long retrieving spells, Shixian had the kind of game that would trouble Saina – a stonewaller who would keep challenging the attacking Indian to better herself after every rally. At the World Championships Shixian had outplayed Saina in under half-an-hour, a 21-8 21-14 result in their first encounter in the seniors.
If the Hong Kong Open triumph was special for one reason, it was this – that Saina had her revenge against two players who had beaten her in recent months. Her quick demolition of local hope Yip Pui Yin – her conqueror in the Asian Games quarterfinals – and Shixian, who beat her at the Worlds, meant that the earlier losses had stung, and she had what it took to reverse those verdicts.
“I wasn’t tense at all in the final,” Saina said over phone from Hong Kong. “Mentally, I’m good, and in rhythm. When I’m like that I’m very hard to beat. I’d worked very hard before the Asian Games, but after that I was relaxed, and I think that worked. I’ve won three Super Series this year, it’s more than what I expected. I’m going to take it easy now for a while.
“I know how disappointed I was with the quarterfinal loss in the Asian Games. That was one gold I was desperate to win but things fell apart in that contest against Yip,” she said. “The Hong Kong Open was a huge challenge. It is always difficult to beat Chinese players because they are physically strong… but it is not impossible. I went in with this attitude,” said Saina. “The Chinese are not invincible. All that you have to do is to really prepare well, work hard and come up with the right game on the given day. That’s exactly what I did today.”
It has been an astonishing year for the current world No.4, a year in which she won three Super Series titles, the Commonwealth Games gold medal at home, a bronze at the Asian Championships, and consistent performances at all the other major events (semis at the All England, quarters at the Asian Games). The next year might well see the start of a whole new chapter in women’s badminton.

Super Series titles, 2010
Three – Saina Nehwal
Two: Wang Xin, Wang Yihan, Jiang Yanjiao (all China)

Saina at other major events:
Commonwealth Games: Gold
Indian Open GP Gold: Gold
Asian Badminton Championships: Bronze
Asian Games: Quarterfinals
World Championships: Quarterfinals
All England: Semifinals

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About badmintonmania

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the Indian in Thoreau's Walden who makes cane baskets and is surprised nobody wants them. A. was talking about discipline when she said: "But Dev, if you want to move ahead in life, you'll have to be like that," and she may as well have defined everything else for me. I've played the low percentage game for too long to believe there's anything in it but the romance; the odds keep getting jacked up higher and higher; and you may be a good Idealist but a worse Fool.
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