Saina Nehwal makes history

Shuttler becomes first Indian woman to reach final of the All England Championships after 21-13, 21-13 win over China’s Sun Yu

That smile said it all. All the hardwork and sacrifices made in an extraordinary journey finally saw Saina Nehwal create history on Saturday. Tense throughout her semi-final against China’s Sun Yu, Saina broke into that rare smile when she finally delivered that last point to win 21-13, 21-13.

Saina Nehwal. Pic/Getty Images 

Saina thus became the first Indian female player to enter the final of the fabled All England Championships. She is only the fourth Indian player since 1947 after Prakash Nath (1947), Prakash Padukone (1980 and 1981) and Pullela Gopichand (2001) to make the final.

There is a new sense of aggression in the way Saina plays now. Seemingly, the change of coach has done her a world of good. Though Saina’s backhand from the deep still remains vulnerable, her overall game and court coverage has improved considerably.

Exceptional work ethic
And new coach Vimal Kumar’s opinion of her work ethics is telling. “Saina is a delight to work with. I have yet to see anyone who can undertake such hardwork in training. She is completely focussed. Our main focus had been on her fitness,” he said recently. Thanks to that focus, Saina is now a one-woman demolition squad as far as Chinese shuttlers are concerned.

She devoured three of their top players in the China Open last year to win that title and now has humiliated their top two players on the way to the final at Birmingham.

In fact, on Friday, she bulldozed her constant nemesis Wang Yihan who has beaten her eight times in their nine encounters before this tournament, handing the Chinese an unprecedented 21-6 defeat in the second game.

On Friday, Saina hit some powerful smashes from all over the court. Especially the body smashes were a delight to watch. On Saturday, she was more a hustler and a retriever. Sun tried everything but Saina was immaculate in her court coverage.

No doubt history has already been created. Just one match remains.

Saina could not have asked for an easier final. She plays Spain’s Carolina Marin whom she has beaten in all their three encounters — most recently at the Indian Grand Prix Gold at Lucknow in January.

But the Indian ace cannot be complacent. And Saina knows that well. She is a consummate professional who knows celebrations can wait.

The best is yet to come. Saina is well poised to go down as one of the finest of Indian sportspersons ever.

The writer is a former India badminton player

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