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A Grand Prix title – as birthday gift

Saina Nehwal

There probably wouldn’t have been any ice cream. Probably a small slice of cake – but perhaps not. We don’t know yet what Saina Nehwal treated herself to on her birthday, but obviously, the biggest gift of them all would’ve been on her mind – a defence of her Swiss Open GP Gold title. We’ll have to wait until tonight to see if she’s won herself that gift.

Ordinary mortals might aspire to an i-Pad or i-Pod for their birthdays; for a Tendulkar or Saina, a good birthday gift would be a century or a title. In Saina’s case, the 2012 Swiss Open final means a whole lot more than many of her other titles: it will be vindication that her biggest rivals – the Chinese — haven’t pulled too far ahead.

She will take on Wang Shixian on Sunday, the same girl whom she had beaten in the semifinals of the World Juniors four years ago in Pune. Since then, the two have met twice as seniors, and share a one-all head-to-head record.

Whatever happens, Sunday’s final will mark a year since her last major title. It has been a troubled year, and perhaps the only redeeming feature of it was that she stayed in the top four – no mean achievement. Yet, if she finished the year with only the Swiss Open, it was mainly due to her frequently running into the Chinese wall. At

When she made the final of the Indonesian Open Superseries the third year in a row – having won it twice before — it was further evidence of the extension of her grand form in 2010. Two match points against Wang Yihan, both saved, and the match slipped.

That loss in three games would be the beginning of a series of losses to the top Chinese, and she would finish the year on No.4 but without a second title after the Swiss Open. It was still a superb year, but by Saina’s high standards, the losses to the Chinese would’ve rankled.

After eight losses in nine matches, she finally turned it around in the quarterfinals of the Swiss Open, beating former Asian Championships bronze medallist and world No.12 Liu Xin in straight games. Will this year’s Swiss Open mark a turnaround in her contentious battles with the Chinese? The final might well give us a clue.

And just in case we forget – she’s just 22. Five years of top-flight badminton; a world ranking of No.5; a best of world No.2; titles all over the world – and just22.

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