India Open 2018: Self-funded Beiwen Zhang eyes first major title as she takes on PV Sindhu in summit clash
Olympic silver medallist P.V Sindhu stands between Zhang and her dream, maiden Superseries title
Beiwen Zhang is eagerly awaiting her United States passport, which could make her eligible to represent the North American country at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In 2016, Zhang missed out that chance at the Rio Olympics.
“Yeah, I am eagerly waiting for it. I will get it get next year. Hope I can play the Olympics this time. But I want to win a major title first,” said Zhang with hopes in her eyes as she cruised into her first major final in almost two years, at the India Open 2018.
The China-born shuttler, whose colourful flower tattoos on her left shoulder completed her game, came back from a game down to overcome Hong Kong’s sixth seed Cheung Ngan Yi 14-21, 21-12, 21-19 in a thrilling encounter which went on for over an hour.
With her crosscourt slices and deceptive net game, which are a delight to watch, Zhang left everyone surprised by her performance considering she was returning from a foot injury in December. Her performance in the quarter-finals when she packed off home favourite Saina Nehwal only added confidence to her flourishing game.
“I am happy but not surprised to enter the final. Currently, I am not very consistent on the court. Sometimes I play really bad and sometimes I come out with surprising performances. So the skills I still haven’t got in my pocket,” Zhang told this correspondent as she looks forward to her women's singles final against crowd favourite and defending champion P.V. Sindhu on Sunday.
“The win against Saina Nehwal was important. In PBL when I played her, I was really rushing myself. So, the key was to stay patient and force her to make mistakes. I think she made a lot of errors,” said the 27-year-old who played for Mumbai Rockets at the Premier Badminton League this season.
When asked if playing in PBL helped her acclimatize to the conditions here better, the Las Vegas-based shuttler ruled it out saying: “I played very badly in PBL. I wasn’t fully recovered from my injury then. Sometimes you can see, I start really slow. There is a slight pinching, it hurts. It depends on how much I push myself hard.”
“I couldn’t wear shoes for three weeks. I wasn’t able to get into slippers because it was swollen. It was pretty hard for me. Even now, it still hurts when I start to warm up,” Zhang said of her ligament tear in her right foot.
Move to Singapore
Zhang moved to Singapore when she was 13 under the Foreign Talent Scheme and soon earned citizenship. She was also part of the Singapore team who claimed the bronze at the 2009 Southeast Asian Games but thereafter she was dropped by the Singapore Badminton Association after falling out with then Thai coach Luan Ching.
A move to Las Vegas with her parents seemed ideal for her and in 2013 when went on to claim four International Challenge tournaments, before winning the US, Brazil, and Dutch Grand Prix titles a year later. In the last two years, she has two GP titles and finished two tournaments as runners-up, besides a runners-up finish at the French Open Superseries in 2016.
“My level is not stable now. Sometimes I don’t put any targets going into tournaments. I just try to enjoy every match,” she said.
No manager, no coach
Zhang is more a self-funded player with no manager or coach, for several years. She travels and trains alone, has to manage her schedule and often has to spend time looking for budget hotels or reach out to friends for accommodation.
Recently she has hired a coach, the former head coach of Singapore national team, but not in a full-time role. It is really incredible to see the way the World no. 11 shuttler has managed to learn and execute the ideas of her coach over messages, and for Zhang, it’s “so far so good”.
“I have a coach now in Singapore. But I can’t afford to have him travel with me for tournaments. I take his advice or get ideas from him over messages during tournaments. We are not training full-time yet. It’s been only two weeks that we are into training.
“Beginning of the year, I am in Singapore where I train with the Singapore national team and in mid-season, I go back to the USA, because there are not many tournaments, just the US and Canada Opens,” said the shuttler of her crazy travel schedule for her training besides tournaments.
For Zhang, the workload is okay if she is able to pursue her dream i.e winning major titles.