For the Win: 5 things Saina Nehwal must do to become World Champion
Over the last couple of years Saina Nehwal of India, Carolina Marin of Spain, Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand and Tai Tzu Ying of Taiwan have collectively quelled the Chinese uprising and broke their domination over Women’s Badminton.
The Badminton World Championships 2015 that is currently underway could not have had better contenders for the Grand Finale. It is World No.1 versus World No.2, Carolina Marin and Saina Nehwal.
Both of them beat top Chinese seeds on their road to the final re-emphasizing their stranglehold on the top two World Rankings in Women’s Badminton. While Carolina Marin played a very fast-paced game to dispatch China’s Wang Shixian in her Quarter Final , Saina Nehwal etched out an epic victory against China’s former World No.1, former World Champion and Olympic Silver medalist Wang Yihan.
Both Saina and Marin have been yoyo-ing between the top two Ranks in the past one year. They have technically very sound games and there is hardly anything that separates them. Carolina Marin, who won the World Championships, last year, has done a great job of defending her title so far. For Saina, the Final is a new terrain. She has to be her very best against Marin tomorrow and here are 5 things she ought to do.
1.Banish the ghosts of the All England Final 2015
In probably one of the toughest losses of her life, Saina Nehwal had a complete meltdown after having a formidable lead against Carolina Marin in the All England final of 2015.
After clinching the opening game and leading 11-9 in the second game, Saina probably started picturing herself on the podium with the gold Medal around her neck. Saina started making uncharacteristic errors from that point and Marin could sense her nervousness from across the net. From then on, it was Marin all the way.
A few months later when Saina’s Coach Vimal Kumar was asked about her meltdown, he said that they had not yet talked about it and that he would wait till Saina chooses to speak about it herself. Hopefully, Saina has found time to discuss it with her coach so that she can banish those bad memories and play with a clear head in the final.
2.Gain confidence from head to head record
Often it is said that head to head records don’t matter much because it is all in the past.
But for a badminton player who is playing at the highest echelons of the game, like Saina Nehwal and Carolina Marin, the mental aspects of the gameplay a big role. For Saina going into the finale with the 3-1 head to head record against Marin should give her a mental edge. In the three matches that Saina Nehwal won in the past, she exploited a minor chink in Marin’s armor – the lack of ability in returning body smashes. Though Marin is a much-improved player from those days Saina should still employ this tactic as part of her game plan.
3.Winning the opening game is a must
Marin is far more fluid and looks effortless when compared to Saina. She does not give away too many free points. Saina should stay patient, construct rallies and work Marin to all four corners of the court.
Carolina Marin is an amazing front-runner. She plays well when she is trailing and even better when she is in the lead. Winning the first game will give Saina a psychological edge going into the Second.
4.Hold on to the mini leads
Carolina Marin idolizes the legendary Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal. She shows glimpses of her hero especially when she is trailing in a game. In her semifinal match against Korea’s Sung Ji-Hyun, Marin fought back from a 13-8 deficit in the final game and won 13 of the last 16 points played to seal a berth in her second consecutive World Championship final. She has emulated such performances on more than one occasion in the past.
Saina should guard from squandering these leads because once she allows Marin to claw back she runs all the way to the finish line with new found momentum.
5.Stick to her game plan and stay tactically agile
It would bode well for Saina if she sticks to her game plan and stay tactically aware. Marin in her Semi Final against Sung Ji-Hyun troubled the Korean player by pinning her to the middle of the court and then placing the shuttle deftly to the far backhand corner for a clean winner. Though this is a tactic that might not trouble Saina as much, owing to her supreme stamina when compared to the Korean, it gives Marin a wide open court to exploit if Saina does not play the backhand clear deep enough.
Saina should also utilize her challenges wisely. In her match against Wang Yihan, she used up her challenges early in the match and had none left to rescue her at critical junctures.
Saina Nehwal has nothing to lose. She is the first ever Indian to have reached the Final of the World Championships. She has managed to achieve what other decorated players of India – Pullella Gopichand and Prakash Padukone - have not been able to do.
Saina has played in the Quarter Finals five times before but had never made it to the next stage. By reaching her first final she has also broken this jinx. Though one may argue that she has a lot at stake, she can afford to play freely and fearlessly against Marin who will have the “burden” of defending her title.