SPORT

Saina creates history, wins Philippines Open



Principal Correspondent

HYDERABAD: Saina Nehwal created history when she became the first Indian woman player to win a four-star badminton tournament. She defeated Julia Xian Pei Wong of Malaysia 21-15, 22-20 in the women's singles final of the Philippines Open at Pasig City, Manila, on Sunday.

"I am delighted and never expected to win such a big event so soon. My ultimate target is to win the All England championship one day," was the 16-year-old's Hyderabad girl's reaction over telephone with The Hindu. Incidentally, the Philippines Open is on par with the All England as a four-star event but lacks the aura.

A boost

Saina said that after she knocked out the World No. 4 and top-seeded Xu Huaiwen of Germany in the quarterfinals, her confidence level got a boost. "But I was never complacent. I kept talking to my parents and coach Gopi Sir (former All England champion Pullela Gopi Chand)," she said. "Essentially, I tried to be my normal self and not get carried away by the occasion. I played my normal game and did not try anything special," said Saina, who according to Gopi Chand is the best thing to have happened to the sport in India.

"Definitely, there is scope for improvement. I am not so naïve to feel like a complete player after one big win. I have to work on my strokes and endurance to be more successful on the international circuit," she confessed.

Very focussed

For someone who had become the youngest Indian ever to win the Asian Satellite singles title in Delhi late last year at 15, Saina is very focussed. "Signing up with the Mittal Trust Foundation took a major financial burden off our shoulders and could not have come at a better time," she said, recalling the deal with the London-based firm in January this year.

She is also grateful to BPCL for taking care of her travel expenditure for tournaments and the company has also promised her a job very soon.

Gopi Chand pleased

A clearly pleased Gopi Chand felt that this was the best result for Indian badminton in recent times. "It is not so easy to win any tournament, and more so abroad for there the pressures are bound to be different. To her credit, Saina seems to have handled everything the opponents on court and the tensions off court pretty well. Definitely, her future looks very good. She is the best bet now from India," he asserted.

Saina's father Harvir was on cloud nine but admitted that the family never expected her to win the title. "We were happy that she was getting better and better but the final result was a pleasant surprise," he said. "We are grateful to Gopi, fitness trainer Dinaz and Saina's friends in the circuit for the result," he added.

Special Correspondent from Bangalore writes:

Prakash, Vimal hail Saina

Saina Nehwal's splendid triumph at Manila evoked praises from the Indian maestro Prakash Padukone and former Indian coach, U. Vimal Kumar. Prakash called Saina's win as a great feat and termed her as the "brightest prospect for Indian badminton".

Padukone said that Saina should keep her focus and aim for more such wins and earn a rightful place on the World stage. "I hope she keeps aiming higher and I wish her luck in the other three GPs on the tour,'' said the former All-England champion.

Vimal said that "Saina has arrived on the world scene. By becoming the first Indian woman to win a Grand Prix title, she has transformed the women's game in the country. This was the break that I hoped she would get and she has got it. What I like about this girl is her attitude and she has tremendous self belief, she didn't stop with beating the World No. 4. She went for the title and got it. This was what others lacked. They win a few good matches, but never the title," said Vimal Kumar.

He said that if she kept up the momentum, Saina could truly break into world's top 10 sooner than one expects.

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