Chinese getting on Saina’s nerves?
Saina Nehwal crashed out of the All England quarterfinals to Li Xuerui of China– a result that is likely to gnaw at the Indian champion and her coach for a while. Despite talk to the contrary from her camp, it is obvious that the Chinese have managed to get under her skin. Of course, it’s more than possible that she can bounce back and reassert her dominance of 2010 over them, but on current form, it would appear that she has much work to do.
The statistics tell a grim story. After a brilliant 2010 when she could do no wrong, Saina had a relatively shaky 2011 – winning just one major, the Swiss Open GP Gold. More significantly, the Chinese slowly ratcheted up their ascendancy over her midway through 2011. While she had frequently beaten their top players until then, the turnaround happened at the Indonesian Open final, where she had two match points but failed to close against Wang Yihan. She’d been in line for a third successive Indonesian Open – an event she considers almost her home event, for such is the support she receives in Indonesia, but the loss of those two match points started her off on a course from which she’s struggling to recover.
Since the Indonesian Open loss in June 2011, Saina has suffered nine losses in ten matches against the Chinese. World No.1 Wang Yihan, No.5 Li Xuerui and No. 6 Jiang Yanjiao in particular have thwarted her frequently, while her record against No.2 Wang Xin is a bit more even.
That Saina would be extensively studied by the Chinese is not news. Youngsters in the Chinese team are given the responsibility of recording matches, and Saina, who has been one of their biggest threats over the last few years, is the subject of close video scrutiny. No badminton team can match the Chinese when it comes to preparation and strategy; it will indeed be interesting to know the kind of specific preparation they have undergone to take her on.
Saina’s coach Gopichand was asked recently if he thought she had a mental block against Wang Yihan, the world No.1 who has beaten her consistently in recent times. Gopi said he didn’t think so, that their matches had always been tight, and that in any case, Yihan was No.1, which meant she would be tough to beat.
But Saina — like every top player in the world — is finding the Chinese a big problem to overcome. Three Chinese singles players are likely to qualify for the Olympics, and that makes her quest for a medal all the more difficult. With each loss, it will get even more difficult to dent their confidence, and she is after all one of a few pitted against a pack. Saina’s game is relatively easy to understand – it is after all built on power and pace and not so much on deception or skill. Perhaps in the months left for the Olympics she could develop some surprise weapons – some small variations — that she can unleash at important moments. She has shown previously that she can bounce back from adverse situations – the manner in which she salvaged 2011 is a case in point. She will need the same reserves of mental strength in the months ahead.