Saina Nehwal continues to set new benchmarks. On Sunday, she became the first Indian after Prakash Padukone in 1980 to win the Denmark Open. The world No.4 was flawless on Sunday, as she completely outplayed Germany’s Juliane Schenk 21-17 21-8 for the title. This was Saina’s first Superseries win on European soil, and her sixth overall.
Meanwhile, Lee Chong Wei survived a tense third game against the fast-improving Du Pengyu of China, to squeeze out a 15-21 21-12 21-19 victory and let out an audible sigh of relief. If Pengyu had won the last match, it would’ve meant three gold medals for China at an event in which their big guns played indifferently.
Pengyu’s win would also have meant a new Chinese threat to Chong Wei, apart from Lin Dan and Chen Long. The Malaysian, who hasn’t had rest even after the Olympics, showed nerve under pressure as he outwitted the Chinese on the crucial last two points. However, Pengyu won the admiration of the crowd for his lion-hearted performance – even late in the third game, he kept plugging away with the big jump smashes and tireless coverage of the court. Pengyu has been around on the circuit for a few years, but it is only in recent times that he has matured into a dangerous contender. There is no doubt that China has a new men’s singles player capable of beating the best.
Schenk had upset two top Chinese, Li Xuerui and Jiang Yanjiao, in the quarterfinals and semifinals. However, the German appeared a pale shadow of herself on Sunday, unable to match Saina’s speed, power or placement. While the first game was close until 17, the second was a washout, with Schenk unable to execute even the simple shots.
“The scoreline doesn’t reflect how tough it was,” Saina said. “Schenk fought very hard. It wasn’t easy. The title means a lot to me. It’s like a fairytale. My right knee is not perfect, and I never expected to win. I thank my fans for the energy, and thanks to all the Indians who cheered for me today.”
This was a new Saina. In contrast to her earlier self, she appears far more relaxed after winning the Olympic bronze. One illustrative moment was at 16-7 in the second game. Saina was running away with the match, and had given Schenk no opportunities at the net. On this point, however, the German won a net dribble, and Saina broke into a big smile, perhaps amused at how she’d been tricked at the net – and even Schenk couldn’t resist smiling back.
There was a small but vocal Indian crowd on finals day. There are about 30 Indians in the town of Odense, most of them techies working for software majors. They were joined by a few other Indians working in Copenhagen who made the two-hour trip from the capital. Among the audience was the Indian ambassador to Denmark. The fans were treated to an interactive session with Saina, as she signed autographs for all of them. A queue of over 100 fans lined up for the autograph session, and Saina patiently obliged all of them.