China Open: All eyes on Saina Nehwal as she makes her much-awaited comeback
This will mark Nehwal's first tournament since undergoing a knee surgery after the Rio Olympics.
A five-member Indian contingent will begin their challenge at the China Open Superseries Premier in Fuzhou on Wednesday but there is no doubt who will be the cynosure of all eyes. Indian shuttle queen and former World No. 1 Saina Nehwal will grab much of the attention, ending a long wait for her legion of fans to see her back in competition.
It was at the Rio Olympics in August that the 26-year-old went with dreams in her eyes of emulating her London Olympic bronze medal-winning feat or doing even better. Given she had been showing sparks of getting back to form with a Superseries title at the Australian Open in June, it would not have been an unrealistic expectation at all to see her with a medal.
But what followed was something nobody was prepared for. The mega-quadrennial Games which could have fetched her more glory, instead turned out to be the start of her ordeal.
Hobbled by a knee injury that she had sustained right before leaving for Rio, Nehwal bowed out in the group stage. The severity of the injury came to light later when she was diagnosed with an infrapatellar spur displaced fracture and patellar tendon impingement in her right knee. It required a surgery that subsequently kept India’s golden girl out of action for three months.
This week’s China Open is the tournament where Nehwal will finally be seen in action for the first time since that ill-fated campaign in Brazil.
Every comeback from an injury-induced layoff is laced with doubts for any player and Saina is no exception. Diligent and persevering as ever, the Hyderabad girl put in her best efforts to get fit as fast as possible. Under the watchful eyes of her physio Heath Mathews, Nehwal worked rigorously on regaining the strength in her legs in order to be competitive again.
Despite that, Nehwal knows she is heading into a future full of uncertainties and how her body will now respond is something that is not in her control. Whether she will be able to set the courts ablaze again with her fighting skills, the World No. 6 herself does not have any inkling.
“It is okay, many people will think my career will end and I won’t come back. I also think somewhere deep in my heart that maybe it is the end of my career, so let’s see how it is. Maybe, you never know,” she said in a recent interview to ESPN that gives a clear picture of how she is still battling the demons in her head.
Even her coach Vimal Kumar admitted that his protégé is still short of endurance. Exercising caution, he added further that she will need a few matches to get back the feel of top-level play again.
Like the renowned coach has urged that expectations need to be guarded, this tournament needs to be considered as just one where the star shuttler is simply testing the waters. The fourth seed does have an easy opponent, though, in her opener. World No. 13 Porntip Buranaprasertsuk of Thailand has lost 9 out of 10 times to the Indian and Saina might bank on her memories of winning the 2014 title to eke out a win even in the first match on her return.
The road ahead, however, shouldn’t be too rosy with the in-form World No. 10 He Bingjiao being her most likely second round opponent. Further ahead, even Saina’s compatriot, PV Sindhu – a silver medallist at the Rio Olympics – lurks in the draw.
Nehwal reached the final of this event the last two years and the circumstances do not look very promising for her to replicate that feat this time. Whether she makes a deep run or not, it simply does not matter at this stage as long as she is healthy and back on the court. And that’s all we have been waiting for.
Welcome back, Saina. You were truly missed!
In Fuzhou .... pic.twitter.com/VdwZ0Voa1a— Saina Nehwal (@NSaina) November 15, 2016