Posted On Monday, June 18, 2012 at 09:06:56 AM
In badminton, a right of passage does not come with the procurement of silverware but rather when you defeat a Chinese player. Flipside is once you beat them they divert their attention on you and dissect you till a point where it becomes almost impossible to beat them again. Once you breach that ‘Great Wall of China’ they reinforce it so that you can’t do it again.
Last year, Saina Nehwal was lost in the wilderness when it came to beating the Chinese in big events and it took her a while to realise that you can’t bring down that Wall but instead have to make a wall of your own. She understood that guts can take you so far but to beat the Chinese you need more than a strong smash.
For the past few months this wall has been fortifying itself, slowly rising brick by brick. Yesterday, we saw a demonstration of how strong that Wall could be when Saina annexed her third Indonesian Open Super Series and her first ever Super Series Premier by beating Li Xuerui of China in the final 13-21, 22-20, 21-19.
The word epic gets thrown around a lot these days but this victory could easily be classified as one. Till yesterday Li Xuerui had not been defeated once in 2012. She was the All England Champion, the Asian Champion, unbeaten for 31 matches.
She was a game up on Saina but instead of losing her cool and going for the ever-popular aggressive approach, Saina took a step back and decided to follow a more defensive plan of action.
The final saw the World No. 5 display her traits of fighting from a seemingly lost position and the ability to come back in tight situations. Saina was a game down and was even fighting against two match points in the second game before she finally claimed the title in the third game.
Initially, Li gave Saina plenty of trouble, as her whippy slices, cross-court mastery and steep smashes left the Indian scurrying all over the place. Li showed remarkable speed and agility to seemingly good returns from Saina and the Indian for her part was making too many errors. She was erratic, giving away too many easy points and Li wrapped up the first game in under 15 minutes.
Saina showed great resilience in the last two games. Her will was really tested when she was down at match point at 20-18. Here Saina not only staved off two match-points but scoring three crucial points, including an exquisite backhand smash down the line to clinch the second game and take the final into the decider.
“I have really worked on my defensive game in the last few weeks of training. This time I made it so they would find it very hard to win points against me and that way they would be the ones who were committing the unforced errors.
Li and all the Chinese players are strong defensively and that’s why this time it was all about saving points rather than losing them in aggression. However, I still have a lot of work left to do before the Olympics but I am really glad I won this tournament and stopped Li’s unbeaten run,” Saina told Mirror after her win.
Coach Pullela Gopi Chand though does not want to reveal too much of her strategy but says that a win like this before the Olympics is always special. “She just has to be more focused and consistent now
that she has beaten the top players with a new formula and strategy. More than anything she has to keep up this fighting spirit,” he told Mirror from Jakarta.
This has more or less been the theme of Saina at the Indonesian Open.
Her matches have been more like dog fights were no player was willing to give away an inch. She has held herself well in the rallies with an addition of new strokes to her repertoire.
She has been excellent at the net which has ensured that her rallies have been unending as she was never willing to yield the shuttle at any point. The inclusion of backhand lifts, cross-court drops and the backhand smash, which were missing from her arsenal, have also helped tremendously.
These are the mortars and cement laid out to strengthen the wall. It’s still unfinished but hopefully before the Olympics this Wall of Saina will be ready to take on the dreaded Wall of China.
► She has to be more focused and consistent now that she has beaten the top players with a new strategy
- Pullela Gopi Chand, Saina Nehwal’s coach