Saina Nehwal was outgunned and outsmashed...
Indian shuttler gave everything she had as she fought for every point, but in the end she was out-maneuvered by a superior opponent, writes Sanjay Sharma
In the end, it was not to be. Saina Nehwal, who had raised Indian hopes at the World Badminton Championships, was dealt a severe psychological blow by defending champion Carolina Marin, thanks to yesterday’s two-game demolition in the final.
Against the Spaniard, Saina gave everything she had as she fought for every point, but in the end she was outgunned, outsmashed and out-maneuvered by a superior opponent. However, Saina was not given time to craft out a strategy or play to a plan.
When the World No 1 and 2 clash, many things like speed, strength, stamina and even skill are almost equal. But the difference on the day is who will out-think the other and how fast. I had written yesterday that the final will be a different game altogether. And that the Indian will have to keep an eye out for those dazzling and fast net cross-courts which cause immense damage. This is precisely where Saina faltered time and again, allowing Marin to dominate the rallies.
The incredible Spanish shuttler took a 15-10 lead in the first game and never looked behind.
There were long rallies no doubt, but Saina was always retrieving, never being allowed to play with rhythm. Marin’s lead increased to 20-13 before Saina could get three points back and eventually the Indian succumbed to a 16-21 loss.
The pattern was clear, Marin dominating the net as much as possible to get openings and then went into an overdrive of flank smashes.
“Saina has great work ethic. She is the hardest worker on court I have ever seen. And yes, she is mentally very strong,” the shuttler’s coach Vimal Kumar had once opined.
In the second game, Saina showed her sterling fighting qualities, upping the pace and actually going on the attack.
The early part of the second game saw Saina at her best, racing off to a handy 10-5 and then 12-7 lead. But Marin, who was now playing against the draught on court, again unleashed some brilliant cross-court scorchers to equalise at 12-12.
Marin also kept the toss trajectory low and pushed Saina on deep forehand baseline corner, from where Saina gave away few mid-court returns, which were promptly punished.
A last-ditch effort saw the Indian lead 15-13, and it did appear that the battle would go to the decider as Marin now made a couple of unforced errors, but it was not to be.
Using her racquet with a surgeon’s precision, Marin carved out the bigger points to win her second World Championships title. If only Saina had somehow restricted Marin’s forays to the net, the story could well have been different.
Marin, if one considers her background, will in all probability be the best-ever women singles player the world has seen. Belonging to a country with no badminton background or history, where some 10,000 people play the sport, Marin obviously had no top player to follow.
The fact that she has beaten every top player in the world, at the young age of 21, and claimed two World Championships titles, All England and European titles of 2015, speaks volumes for her future.
Seemingly she gets better with every tournament. It is Marin who will now be the player to beat at Rio Olympics next year.
Back to drawing board Saina may have won the silver, but she lost the gold. And it will be back to the drawing board as she and Vimal must analyse what went wrong and how to right it for the near future. And Marin will always be around, getting better and better.
So India comes back with just one medal, but our players did well enough. We had five quarter-finalists in all, including Saina, and this augurs well for future at the world stage for Indian badminton.
The writer is a former India player