Saina Nehwal overcomes Li Xuerui to lift third Indonesian Open title
HYDERABAD: The worst dreams of the Chinese contingent are coming true as the Saina Nehwal juggernaut is on a roll. The last two weeks could well be an indication of what China - the world super power of badminton - could expect at the Olympic Games next month. Saina is proving a tough nut to crack for the Chinese shuttlers as was evident at the Indonesian Open this week. The way the Hyderabadi is dismantling the supremacy of the Chinese is heart-warming for her billion fans while it is a heart-break for the other billion who are on the other side of the fence.
On Sunday, the Hyderabadi displayed nerves of steel as she snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to claim her maiden Indonesian Super Series Premier title in Jakarta. Saina's 13-21, 22-20, 21-19 win over China's Li Xuerui proves the die-hard spirit of the 22-year-old, who saved two match points to script an incredible victory. The win was sweeter for Saina who seems to bloom in Jakarta - her favourite venue. She had earlier won the Super Series title in 2009 and 2010 before the tournament was upgraded to the Premier level in 2011.
With the one hour, five minute battle of attrition, Saina ended the 30-match winning streak of Xuerui, who undoubtedly is the most successful player on the circuit this year. Xuerui had last lost to Wang Yihan in the quarterfinals of the Malaysia Open on January 13, before winning the German Open, All England, Asian Championships and the India Open. "I am quite excited with this victory. Somehow whenever I step on the court in Indonesia I feel like a champion. This venue is lucky for me and without doubt it is my favourite. I love Indonesia, the people and many thanks to my fans who have come all the way to cheer me," Saina said.
"There is still sometime before the Olympics. We need to work very hard as everyone will be at their peak during the Games. The Chinese are tough to beat and we have to be ready for them," a modest Saina said. Coming back to the game on Sunday, Xuerui had almost wrapped up the match as she was leading 20-18 in the second game after taking the first one at 21-13. But Saina, who was in a similar situation in the Commonwealth Games final, kept her nerves and forced the Chinese into making two unforced errors before snatching two points to stay alive in the match.
Coach Pullela Gopichand said that he was surprised by the mental toughness of his ward. "To be frank I was not expecting her to play like that today. The last week has been like a dream. After a tough week at Thailand I thought it would be difficult to maintain the tempo. But I am surprised by her mental tenacity. The way she came back from the brink and kept her nerve was just amazing. To be honest I didn't think she would display that grit today," said Gopi, adding that the Chinese will now be working on new strategies to counter Saina.
BACK IN THE HUNT
After a landmark year in 2010 where she won five titles - India Open GP, Singapore Open Super Series, Indonesia Super Series, Commonwealth Games Gold and Hong Kong Super Series - Saina suffered a slump in 2011. She managed to win only Swiss Open GP in March, 2011 and lost in the final of Indonesia Super Series final in June. In 2011, she tripped on the treadmill and suffered multiple bruises on the knees. She also had problems with viral fever before a few big events. Her ranking touched a high of World No. 2 on July 15, 2010 and dropped to No. 6 on June 30, 2011. She, however, reentered the top 5 on August 18, 2011.
Though she gets about 11000 points from the Sunday win, her ranking may not improve as she had to defend 9350 points from her final appearance last year. After a few failures in the early part of 2012, coach Gopichand introduced Saina to a new diet. She managed to lose five kilos. Though the sudden weight loss did not help her at the Indian Open and Asian Championships, the results are showing now as is evident from her back-to-back title wins (Thai Open and Indonesia Open).