Saina Nehwal’s first match after the Olympic bronze medal playoff turned out to be easier than expected. The Indian never looked troubled against World No.12 Bae Yeon Ju, who beat her the last time they met, at the India Open. Saina talks to Dev S Sukumar in Odense, Denmark:
Thoughts on the match?
As for my condition, I don’t feel 100 per cent because of (right) knee pain. It is normal pain that we players have. I trained well for the last five weeks, although the knee was a little painful. But the way I played today, it was good, because I’ve never beaten her in straight games. I always did either three games, or the last time, I lost to her easily. Bae is a very strong player and troubles all the top players. In fact, she did three games with Yihan recently.
It was a good match, overall I got my confidence back, after two months of break … tomorrow again, against Japan, it will not be an easy one. I have to be strong, again the same way, lot of rallies, and I have to be alert.
Surprised by how easily it went?
Surprised. Opening match against the World No.12 is not easy, but I was prepared. I just thought I would do my best. Of course, the Olympics is over, so it’s now again back to the Super Series, and I just want to play freely and see how much better I can play.
You’ve been felicitated at so many functions after the Olympics. Wasn’t that a distraction to your training?
A lot… but it is important, because we play a sport that’s not as popular as cricket. So after the Olympics, we need to celebrate a bit. I know people will say, why do you do this and that, but it is important to popularize the game. Otherwise it will be the same, we will be struggling to win, but there will be nothing in the sport. I know I did a bit, but everyone knows it’s because of the game. So… that’s why I took a bit of time off. Otherwise, I if I’d taken part in China and Japan my performance wouldn’t have been good. So I thought I’d take a break, and attend all the functions that people want us to. I think I took a good decision. Starting with this Super Series, I’ve set some things for this year. If I’ve not prepared well, or if I think I’m not playing well, I will withdraw from the tournament. Because the next five months will be very hectic, there will be a lot of functions, and I just have to be very careful with the tournaments I pick up now.
Any particular direction in which you want your game to go now?
Right now, it’s okay. It hardly matters, because there’s nothing great coming up. At all tournaments I have to be fit, because girls run a lot, they make you move a lot. So you have to be 100 percent fit when you play at the highest level. That’s what I have to be careful about, until the next big event. When the big event comes, then we need to change a bit. But before that I think we can manage.
How do you like playing in Europe, compared to Asia?
In Asia the stadiums are big, there are a lot of lights. In Europe, the lights are less, the stadium is like a club, except for the All England.
Tine Baun has announced her retirement…
Has she? Oh… she was a great player. She beat me in the semifinals of the All England in 2010, and she was really strong that time. There will be a vacuum in Denmark. Juliane Schenk is the one European who’s strong. But Europe needs to improve a lot. There’s nobody from Denmark. Even in Germany, there’s no one after Schenk. It will be a lot of Asia versus Asia now.