With a few more Indians set to enter the main draw after the qualifying matches, the focus of the Indian Open Super Series here at Siri Fort will shift towards how many of them are likely to qualify for the London Olympics. Saina, India’s best bet, has already qualified for the Olympics, but there are players like Ajay Jairam and P Kashyap in men’s singles, V Diju and Jwala Gutta in the mixed doubles and Jwala again with Ashwini Ponnappa in the ladies doubles who are on the cusp of qualifying for the London event. This could well be the largest and strongest ever badminton squad from the country in any Olympics since the sport made its debut at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Saina was close to sealing a semi-final spot in the last edition at Beijing in 2008, but lost a very close match (to Indonesia’s Maria Kristin Yulianti) — a loss that still haunts her.
Fit and fresh
Looking fit and fresh after reportedly losing five kilos through some hard training and strict dieting under the watchful eye of national coach P Gopichand, she feels that though the year has not been all that good (she win only the Swiss Open in March), she is still playing top-class badminton. “I am feeling very fit. I know I lost to an unseeded Chinese player at the Asians last week, but I still feel that I am playing well enough to do well in this Super Series and also at London,” she says. Saina had a hard workout on Monday as well as early yesterday morning and was put through the paces by Gopi. “I think she is at her best. She has increased her speed and I am sure she’ll be able to match the Chinese in this aspect now. Saina is very gutsy and that is one big advantage. Our focus of course is to get a medal at the Olympics and I think we are on the right track,” says Gopi.
However, like the Asian Championships last week, this Super Series may not be easy. In the first round, the Indian ace plays Yip Pui Yin of Hong Kong, a player who she has defeated in their last three matches. But Yin has got the better of Saina before that on a few occasions. If Saina wins, she could have Bae Yun Joo to combat in the second round. The Korean is no pushover and is a hardworking shuttler, who is extremely fit. Then of course, there are the Chinese and the psychological advantage is with them although home support can play a decisive role here.