These days, Saina Nehwal and her idol Roger Federer have a common worry — how to deal with the rising confidence of more and more players who believe these champions are more beatable today than ever before.
After the 2012 London Olympics, where she won a fortuitous bronze when China’s second seed Wang Xin retired early in the second game after leading throughout, Saina was expected to reach a new high.
However, that was not to be. After winning the Denmark Open in October 2012, Saina’s search for another Super Series title continues.
As Saina prepares to regain the title in the $120,000 India Grand Prix badminton championship here this week, she cannot be too sure of success even in this not-so-strong field. She used Wednesday, the day of brief qualifying rounds, to get a “feel” of the court.
Today, Saina does not inspire the confidence of old. Since her game revolves around her fitness, the lack of it has impacted her performance.
Consider this: Since January 2013, Saina’s ranking has come down from world No. 2 to 8. Her ranking points, from a high of 80,091, stand at 58,680. In 15 tournaments, Saina has lost 16 times to 15 different rivals.
Saina’s worst year since 2011 has coincided with P.V. Sindhu’s best. With just three places separating the two Indians, Saina has another reason to be worried.
But their coach P. Gopichand maintained that he was not worried.
“We’ll sort it out,” was Gopi’s stock answer to questions pertaining to Saina’s lack of fitness, form and focus. “I am not worried. She will start winning.”
He recalled Saina’s poor form in 2011 when she lost to 11 different rivals during the nine months they parted ways.
“Thereafter, in eight months, she was ready for the Olympics. So, I am confident that Saina will be back.”
On Tuesday, Saina trained till 2 p.m. and missed the press conference where she was replaced by Sindhu. “Since Saina was required to be present for the opening ceremony at 6 p.m., she wanted to rest,” was how Gopichand explained the 2009 champion’s absence from the media briefing.
The last time Saina played in a Grand Prix event was here in December 2012. In the first round, she held two match-points against Ksenia Polikarpova but dramatically chose to quit, leaving the organisers red-faced.
Even in 2011, Saina attended the opening ceremony but left the city the following day citing injury.
Now looking to end her title-drought, a reluctant Saina is here in search of the 7000 points that comes with the title.
The qualifiers: Women: Singles: Santoshi Hasini, Sanchali Dasgupta, Rachita Sahdev and Shruti Mundada.Men: Doubles: Bennet Anthony & P.H. Suraj.