Her defeat to Carolina Marin in All-England final notwithstanding, the 24-year-old Hyderabadi shuttler has age going in her favour, writes Sanjay Sharma
In the end, it was not to be. Perhaps, the most anticipated victory for India in the world of sports in recent years, ended in a damp squib as Saina Nehwal threw in the towel against Carolina Marin in the All-England final at Birmingham yesterday.
India's Saina Nehwal prepares to receive Carolina Marin's serve during their All-England final in Birmingham yesterday. Pics/AFP
One could see determination writ large over Saina's face when she walked in with a sense of purpose. There was a frown on her face as she soon got down to business. The first game saw her attack from the start.
Well aware that her 21-year-old rival is a natural attacker and also a very fast mover on the net, Saina played the right strategy of keeping the Spanish world champion away from the net and at same time attacking any loose shots. The Indian ace therefore led the first game from the start, winning 21-16. Saina started off extremely well in the second, cruising up to 5-1.
Saina runs out of ideas
But from this point onwards she inexplicably ran out of ideas. And yes, she also looked to have run out of steam. She still managed to move up to 10-6, but thereafter, Saina was simply not in the game as everything crumpled around her. Marin now was on a roll, upping the pace and scything down the shuttle with vengeance.
Carolina Marin poses with her winner's trophy in Birmingham yesterday
Very much in the driver's seat by now, Marin reeled in point after point, never looking back. Saina hardly plays any deep backhand shots as she converts them using her overhead shots. Marin caught her with fast crosscourt dropshots and Saina was late in reaching that area after being confined to the deep backhand area.
By the time the Spanish shuttler, who won the world championships as well as the European gold last year, moved on to 19-14, Saina's shoulders had drooped. Gone was that sense of purpose. Marin wrapped up the second soon and was on a canter, smashing away at will at the start of the third and crossed courts at 11-4.
It was clear that the fight had gone out of Saina as she made error after error. With no fightback in the offing, she simply allowed Marin to win the decider 21-7. This was the best possible chance for Saina to win arguably the most sought-after title in badminton. But Saina and India will have to wait another year.
Work to do
Now, Saina and coach Vimal Kumar will have to work out on the glitches and whatever weaknesses they may have witnessed. With the Sudirman Cup and World Championships slated for later this year, Saina still has a shot at the No 1 ranking.
One thing is for sure: Though she lost the All-England final, one can sense her best is yet to come. She is just 24 years old and has many years of top-class badminton left in her.
The writer is a former India badminton player
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Saina Nehwal played like Indian team today. Awesome opening , middle order collapse, hopeless death bowling.