India Open 2018: Not a title contender, just want to do well, says Saina Nehwal
A couple of months at the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad and a few good sessions with her mentor seemed to have already done a lot of good to Saina Nehwal. Not only she has regained her fitness, but also, her old form since recovering from a career-threatening knee injury.
Two podium finishes — National Championships title and Indonesia Masters runners-up — and a few important wins against top-ranked players including World No. 3 P. V. Sindhu, Ratchanok Intanon (fourth-ranked), Carolina Marin (fifth) and Sung Ji Hyun (sixth) were only added boost to her confidence ahead of a crucial 2018.
But one name that neither Saina nor Sindhu have been able to beat, yet, is the World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying, who had a terrific 2017 with five titles.
In their last 10 meetings, Saina had lost to the wily Taiwanese nine times, mostly in straight games with only three of them going into a decider. Last week, Saina suffered her seventh straight loss to Tai Tzu at the Indonesia Masters final. Meanwhile, Sindhu has a 3-8 head-to-head record against the 23-year-old from Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
"You see the number of tournaments she has been won last year, so it is not only the Indians who are losing to her. She is the best player right now, she is tricky, she is very focused and consistently reaching the finals and we have to look up to her for that,” said Saina on her latest nemesis as she braces up for the opening game of the 2018 India Open.
"I think the top 15 players are doing well. There are some players who you are not comfortable against but it is not that we can't beat her. Tai Tzu almost lost to Michaell Li in the first round at Indonesia, so we will have to figure out a way to beat her. I think it’s just a matter of time, we have it in us to do well against her," she added.
Since her World Championship bronze-medal winning show at Glasgow last August, Saina has expressed her intentions of focusing on “fitness” rather than tournaments. Being the oldest among world’s top-ranked players, the 27-year-old knows she has to put in some extra effort to challenge her younger compatriots.
"The only thing I am looking to do is stay fit and train hard. And yes, it has been an excellent week at Indonesia for me, thanks to Gopi sir. We didn't have much time after the PBL, so basically it was 5-6 good sessions of preparation before the Indonesia Open and I came out with a good result," the World No. 12 said.
“I am not looking forward to any tournament, just want to stay fit,” was Saina’s curt reply to a query on how she is handling the workload owing to a crammed BWF new tournament schedule.
The runner-up finish at Indonesia and with no Tai Tzu or Akane Yamaguchi at this week’s India Open have possibly put the focus on our home shuttlers Saina and Sindhu, besides Olympic champion Carolina Marin.
However, Saina didn’t want to be among the “title contenders”. And thus her reply left everyone surprised. "Last few months, I was not a title contender, so I don't know from where it is coming," she retorted adding that she hopes to do well.
With back-to-back events for the last couple of weeks, Gopichand says it’s “tough” to even get one good session with his wards. “We are working hard whenever we are getting time. But it’s just not enough. It’s always easier to prepare if you get two-three months. Neither there is any scope to be disheartened after losses, nor any time to bring changes during training. So in just one-two sessions, we have to prepare smartly.
“With Saina even, we are trying to work in warm-up sessions. Basically, we have to work in a smarter way as with travelling and so many tournaments there is no room for training,” the national chief coach said adding that he hasn’t been able to plan out a schedule for 2018.
For Saina, he admitted it will tough for her to maintain her fitness level in a tight scheduling like 2018. “It will be difficult for her. But we have no option.”