Saina Nehwal’s bodacious performance over the last few years (especially 2012 – which has been a super year for her) has taken Indian badminton to a new ‘high’ – a high from which it can only scale further up. For someone who is just 22, the Hyderabad girl already appears like a veteran, having spent more than six years on the senior international circuit.
It’s not just the wins that Saina has achieved that makes her fans happy; the manner in which she goes about achieving them which leaves all spellbound. She has developed this uncanny knack of wriggling out of tight situations and taking her opponents by the scruff of the neck just when it seems she had thrown in the towel.
Without a shadow of doubt, Saina Nehwal has served as an inspirational tonic for the other Indian shuttlers (both men and women).
Her consistent victories over top ranked players have rubbed off on someone like Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, better known as PV Sindhu. The 17-year-old– also from the same city as Saina– grabbed international attention when she shocked London Olympics gold medallist (then world number 3) Li Xuerei 21-19, 9-21, 21-16 to romp into the semifinals of the China Masters.
The Chinese conquest was not the only for Sindhu. The gangling youngster staged another upset in the earlier round when she ousted 8th seed Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (then world no. 14) of Thailand 10-21, 21-7, 21-19 in the second round.
The ‘Saina effect’ was also seen in the recent impressive performances of our male shuttlers. First mention has to be made of Sania’s good friend and city mate Parupalli Kashyap, who has had a commendable 2012 – a man who got himself diagnosed with asthma in the early part of his career.
Kashyap – the highest ranked Indian in the men’s singles (ranked 22nd) – gave the upcoming male shuttlers in the country plenty to rejoice about when he went on a giant-killing spree at the 2012 Djaram Indonesian Open in June this year. The 26-year-old pulled off the biggest career win when he shocked world no. 3 Chen Long of China 21-17, 21-14 in the pre-quarterfinals before accounting for (then world no. 16) Hans-Kristian Vittinghus of Denmark 21-15, 21-14.
Kashyap later created history at the London Olympics when he became the first Indian male shuttler to reach the men’s singles quarterfinals. The Indian vanquished tenth seed Tien Minh Nguyen (then world no. 11) of Vietnam 21-9, 21-14 in the pre-quarters.
The ‘Saina effect’ is not exclusive to the Hyderabad circuit. Mumbai boy Ajay Jayaram sprang a massive surprise when he put it across third seed Kenichi Tago (then world no.9) of Japan 21-13, 21-17 in the first round of the China Masters this September. The Indian Oil employee – who is the second highest ranked singles player (ranked 26th) went on to enter the semifinals where he lost 16-21, 18-21 to Hong Kong’s Yun Hu.
Another shuttler who has been improving in leaps and bounds is Sourabh Varma. Varma, who moved up to 30th position in WBF rankings, upset world no.8 and home crowd favorite Peter Gade 21-18, 21-14 in first round of the Danish Open recently.
Even RMV Gurusaidutt has been making a steady climb in rankings (ranked 42nd). The 22-year-old stunned former All-England champion (2003 champion) Muhammad Hafiz Hashim 21-18, 19-21, 21-13 in the first round of the China Masters before disposing of higher ranked fellow Indian Parupalli Kashyap in the second round to make it to the last eight stage. It was indeed a praiseworthy effort by the Indian, who ran out steam against world no. 3 Chen Long of China in the quarter-finals.
Clearly, Saina Nehwal has ingrained one most important trait – self-belief in our shuttlers; the belief to be, and beat, the best in the business.
The Badminton Association of India (BAI) also deserves a big pat on the back for the way they are running the sport in the country. National chief coach and former All England champion Pullela Gopichand has been doing a stupendous job behind the scenes, which is triggering consistently impressive performances from our shuttlers on the international circuit.