The 2017 season had different women’s singles champions in the major championships. If World No 1 Tai Tzu Ying stood atop with her four Super Series and All England wins, Japanese Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara stole the show at the Dubai World Superseries Finals and World Championships this year. Silver medallist at Worlds and Superseries Finals, PV Sindhu, Sung Ji Hyun, Sun Yu and Saina Nehwal stayed in contention too but fell short at the last hurdle on quite a few occasions.
One thing that was common in the all the above champions was their top-level fitness that helped them last during intense and energy-sapping games.
Saina, who showed great determination and grit to claim a bronze at the World Championships in Glasgow, too realises this and hence is focused on raising her fitness level to match her young competitors who are in their early 20s. Saina, 27, is the oldest player in the top-10 of world rankings.
“My only focus is fitness now. I am not looking forward to any tournament, tiles, getting fit is my priority now. I am moving well but I still don’t have the fitness to play five back-to-back matches in any tournament,” said Saina ahead of the kick-off of the Premier Badminton League Season 3. Saina, who is leading the Awadhe Warriors at the PBL-3, made a last-minute pull-out from the high-voltage clash against P.V. Sindhu.
“In any sport now, it is all about fitness, it is not about the experience and I have this belief if I’m fit then I can beat anyone. In fact, had I been in the last four months I would have had more titles. In the nationals, I could beat Sindhu because I was moving well. It would have been equally tiring and stamina-draining if the match had gone to the third game. The result would have been different,” added the former World no. 1 on regaining her nationals title.
Saina, in fact, was awed by Yamaguchi and Okuhara, who she says stayed ahead of the rest owing to their supreme fitness.
“I am amazed to see the movements of these girls and how they are able to last that long following long rallies. They are so short, they are running double their opponents and yet picking up all difficult shots.”
With a crammed schedule announced by the Badminton World Federation for 2018, Saina’s target for the year was understandable. Slamming the decision, the Indian ace had said that her body needs time to recover and prepare for major events. Thus picking up the right tournaments next year will be crucial for her.
In order to plan her next year’s tournaments better, Saina has moved back her training base to the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad from Bengaluru, where she was training with U. Vimal Kumar for the last three years.
“The main reason to move back to Hyderabad was to get better than what I am now and discuss next year’s tournaments with Gopi bhaiya. It’s a lot easier to train in Hyderabad with a lot of sparring partners to have during intense training. When I came back I just told him I want to play (here) again and he said, ‘I know that’ and it continued. It was really nice of him to be same he was before.
"We have had no issues about whatever happened in the last three years. We still have the same kind of discussions and all the players are like “kya hai ye, inka kuch panga nahi hai kya?’ Nothing is different now, whenever we get time we are working on my fitness and movement,” Saina told this correspondent.
Saina also revealed that the knee injury during the Rio Olympics had left her so crestfallen that she didn’t want to play again. However, it was her parents’ support that gave her the strength and motivation to return to the court in style. She then went on win the World Championship bronze, apart from the Malaysian Masters and Senior Nationals titles post her surgery.
“The three weeks of bed rest following the surgery, I kept thinking if I should play again or not. But whenever I felt demotivated, my parents were there to lift my spirits. They even teased me that ‘we are so old and yet going to the gym, why can’t you?’. I somehow didn’t give up. The only thing in my mind was either I come out of it and beat players again or sit at home, watch TV and be happy, which everyone does. I want to play as long as I can.
“Everyone has to face difficult times, has to retire someday, but you have to prove that you can still do, and do it differently. It’s like doing something unique like Roger Federer has done,” added Saina, who also credited physio Heat Mathews for helping her out in her tough times.Published 26 Dec 2017, 10:01 IST