Malvika Bansod registered one of her biggest wins on the international stage as she steamrolled Saina Nehwal 21-17, 21-9 in the second round of the India Open.
Bansod was the dominant of the two from the start on Thursday (13 January) and put the contest to bed in just over half an hour.
Taking a small advantage early in the first game helped the 20-year-old seize the initiative. She opened up a 7-5 lead and pocketed the first game soon after. The second game completely belonged to the rookie Indian as she never looked back and went on to win with ease.
Malvika Bansod is now only the second Indian player to defeat Saina Nehwal in any international tournament since 2017. Prior to Thursday's match, Nehwal's only loss against an Indian opponent at the India Open was in the quarter-finals against PV Sindhu in 2017.
On the domestic circuit, Aparna Popat is the only Indian to beat Saina Nehwal when she got the better of her in the Bangalore Nationals fifteen years ago.
Bansod regards Saina Nehwal as her idol. Speaking to journalists after the match, she admitted that the feeling of beating her idol hasn't sunk in yet.
"I don't think it (the win) has sunk in yet. The feeling is really great. I was really excited after the win. It was a great match," a beaming Malvika Bansod said.
It was the first time Bansod was playing against Saina and the young southpaw was elated to be on the right side of the result. She said:
"I'm very happy after winning the match because it was my first meeting with Saina. And she has always been my idol since I started playing badminton. So playing against her was a dream come true. It is a big achievement for me and is one of the biggest wins of my career so far.".
It was only natural for Malvika Bansod to idolize Saina Nehwal. The former World No 1 was instrumental in putting Indian badminton on the world map after becoming the first Indian shuttler to win an Olympic medal. Bansod acknowledged that as well, saying:
"She is my idol because she has been the flagbearer of women's badminton in India for more than a decade. That's the reason why I idolize her. When I took up badminton, I just used to see her matches and I was very overawed by her game and her style of play. She plays an attacking game and she's got a lot of power. I think I idolized that in her."
Malvika Bansod aims higher after stunning win at India Open
Malvika Bansod is riding a huge learning and success wave. The young Indian shuttler had a good 2021 as she was the first-choice singles player at the prestigious Sudirman Cup and Uber Cup.
Bansod went up against several top players in the world in those competitions. She clashed horns against the likes of Akane Yamaguchi of Japan, Kirsty Gilmour of Scotland and Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong. Although she couldn't muster any wins against them, playing against such experienced opponents was a huge learning experience for the young Indian.
She won two international titles in 2021, winning the Lithuania International and Uganda International. Bansod also emerged victorious in the Senior National Badminton tournament in Hyderabad to complete a spectacular year.
A stellar run in the ongoing Indian Open gives Malvika Bansod the license to aim higher.
The young shuttler has now set her sights on playing in higher ranking tournaments in the near future. It will not only improve her ranking on the world stage and put her on the next level but will also help elevate her game.
"I am aiming for better ranking in the near future so that I can play in high ranking tournaments like Super 500, Super 300 and Super 1000, so that I could improve my ranking faster," she said.
Malvika Bansod was also quick to introspect. The Nagpur-based youngster knows she has to get better at her physical strength and fitness. She added:
"I think after having a big lead, sometimes, I give away two or three points, like without any effort, like unforced errors. So, I think I need to focus on them. There is no upper limit to physical strength and fitness and so obviously they're always on the list for improvement."
"But in the near future, I think I should be careful not to give away easy points when I have a lead."
Malvika Bansod is now gearing up to face Aakarshi Kashyap in the quarter-finals in what will be a repeat of last month’s All India Senior Ranking tournament final. Regardless of the result, the young Indian has already staked her claim to be the next big player in Indian badminton.