At present, Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu are separated by just two places in the current world ranking list. But put them on a badminton court and even a struggling Saina, ranked ninth, looks much better than a fast-improving Sindhu.
Saina reinforced the point before a packed house here by stopping the teenager 21-14, 21-17 to regain the $120,000 India Grand Prix badminton title. The triumph also ended Saina’s title-drought that followed since she claimed the Denmark Open in October 2012.
Saina, winner here in 2009, collected $9000, the winner’s trophy and 7000 ranking points. For the second successive edition, Sindhu finished second best and settled for $4,560.
On Sunday, the titles went to China and Saina. After the Chinese collected all three doubles titles, World number 50 Xue Song inflicted a painful 16-21, 21-19, 21-13 defeat on the National champion K. Srikanth, ranked 30th.
When Srikanth was only two points away from winning the fast-paced final, Song dramatically turned it around. He bounced back from 12-19 in the second game to reel off the next 15 points, thereby leading 6-0 in the decider, and pushed an exasperated Srikanth to a point of no return.
Like Saina’s Independence Day victory in New Delhi last year, the one on Republic Day proved that Sindhu lacks the experience and self-belief to hurt her senior rival.
No wonder, Saina held the psychological advantage of having beaten Sindhu twice in the Indian Badminton League last August — 21-19, 21-8 and 21-15, 21-7 — and never looked in serious trouble.
However, in terms of quality, the first clash between the two in a BWF event failed to live up to the expectations of a noisy, holiday crowd.
The final was also marred by some poor line-calls that seemed to affect Sindhu more than Saina. After Sindhu was rattled by the line-call on the second point, Saina raced away to leads of 8-1 and 14-7 and seized control.
Sindhu, who struggled with the length of her returns throughout the contest, clawed back into the game by playing aggressively. She managed to make it 12-14 but soon it was clear that Saina was not intimidated.
In the second game, which witnessed longer rallies and some fine placements from both players, Sindhu led 5-1 and 9-7 to raise visions of a closer match. But once Saina changed gears, came up some measured forehand drops and down-the-line smashes past Sindhu’s forehand, the result was never in doubt. The inevitable occurred when Sindhu missed a dribble.
“I’ve worked very hard and it feels great to win. Sindhu has improved a lot in the past year and I knew it would be a tough match,” said the champion.
Sindhu admitted her “simple errors” cost the match. “Throughout, I played well, including the final, but I lost...” said Sindhu, with a smile that failed to hide the disappointment.
The results (Indians unless stated): Finals (prefix denotes seeding): Men: 9-Xue Song (Chn) bt 6-K. Srikanth 16-21, 21-19, 21-13.
Women: 1-Saina Nehwal bt 2-P.V. Sindhu 21-14, 21-17.
Doubles: Men: 4-Junhui Li and Yuchen Liu (Chn) bt 8-Huang Kiaxiang and Zhang Si Wei 21-17, 19-21, 22-20.
Women: Chen Qingchen and Jia Yi Fan (Chn) bt 4-Xiaohan Yu and Yaqiong Huang (Chn) 22-24, 21-19, 21-11.
Mixed: Wang Yilv and Yaqiong Huang (Chn) bt Huang Kaixiang and Chen Qingchin 21-18, 21-14.