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Indian star Nehwal looks well-positioned for Rio Olympics. AARON WONG reports
Indian star Saina Nehwal captured her second Australian Badminton Open Superseries title in three years after overcoming Chinese Sun Yu in the women’s singles final in Sydney this month.
World No.8 and last year’s Australian Badminton Open runner-up, Saina lost the first game 11-21 against the World No.12 Chinese before winning the next two games 21-14, 21-19 to clinch the championship. The match lasted for an hour and 12 minutes.
The tournament organisers had the good sense to schedule this match last. Spectators went home buzzing after the see-sawing women’s singles, and the longest final of the day, where Saina Nehwal picked up her second Australian title, and first Superseries in a year since the 2015 India Open.
Nehwal extended her head-to-head lead over Sun to 6-1 but this fifth consecutive win over her opponent was anything but easy, although it was straightforward. Nehwal knew which shots she needed to produce and the amount of fitness required to reach her six foot opponent’s shuttles.
Unlike her mind reading quarter-final victory over the hottest player of the year so far, Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, and even more suffocating success at the semis to remove China’s top lady Wang Yihan, both in straight games, the Indian superstar slogged through most of the final.
There was a whiff of innovation in her style too. A game down, Nehwal levelled matters with the audacity of a finely calibrated net shots strategy which is full of pros and cons for the shorter player like herself who ends up running a lot more. It worked to gain her the second game and promptly failed after the change of ends, all the while keeping the stadium on the edge of their seats as Saina was the one driving the pace of the match.
“I came into this tournament not expecting to win and today not feeling as great as I did against Ratchanok or Yihan,” Nehwal told Indian Link after the match.
What this demonstrates is a new level of confidence that works in the reality of being able to produce high quality play no matter whether she starts off hot or cold. Trusting in which is her best shot, Nehwal substituted the net play with earning points using outright smash winners, much like Vittinghus had earlier. Overall, this added dimension bodes well for her Olympic medal chances.
“The smash takes so much stamina but the inspiration came from within me. My coaches do worry but I’m thinking with three chances at it and how hard I was hitting, I had a feeling she would crack – no matter if I were facing Wang Yihan or Li Xuerui too.”
Women’s and men’s singles are the hallmarks of Indian badminton. Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu and Tanvi Lad led the charge in Sydney on the ladies’ side, and Sameer Verma and Srikanth Kidambi on the gentlemen’s. Similar to Korea, India made inroads at the Australian Open by posting two semi-finalists for the first time – Nehwal and Kidambi, despite a half sized contingent this year.
Saina Nehwal’s innovative style of winning is the lone ranger stellar Indian result in world badminton at the moment as the recent high tide of their men’s singles seems to have ebbed as far as threatening titles go. The quality in their men’s singles remains, though, and is simply waiting for a change of tide.
In the near future
The Olympic Games in two months’ time looms large and for badminton two qualities are found in its champions. It is an established player peaking in the same year and someone used to handling powerful distractions on top of ambitious opponents. Doesn’t that sound like a certain recently crowned Australian Open winner to you?
It is precisely the requirement of the aforementioned qualities that can only serve the defending champions like Lin Dan and Fu Haifeng well, even though they have lost in early rounds sometimes this year. The Olympics is unlike any other badminton competition and it takes more than talent, skill and bravado alone.
WD: Bao Yixin / Chen Qingchen (CHN) beat Nitya Krishinda Maheswari / Greysia Polii (INA)  23-21, 21-17
MD: Marcus Fernaldi Gideon / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (INA)  beat Angga Pratama / Ricky Karanda Suwardi (INA)  21-14, 21-15
XD: Lu Kai / Huang Yaqiong (CHN)  beat Zheng Siwei / Chen Qingchen (CHN) 21-18, 21-14
MS: Hans-Kristian Vittinghus (DEN) beat Jeon Hyeok Jin (KOR) 21-16, 19-21, 21-11
WS: Saina Nehwal (IND)  beat Sun Yu (CHN) 11-21, 21-14, 21-19