CHENNAI: Seven winters ago, Saina Nehwal acted on an elite level. After winning Syed Modi International and also reaching the All England Open final, the Haryana shuttle entered the India Open as one of the favorites.
And she managed to fill her bills, showing top-notch badminton at the time. More importantly, she claimed world No. 1 status in the process, becoming the first woman from the country to reach that level.
That now seems a distant past. Currently the 25th world number, those golden days have eluded her in recent years, largely due to repeated injuries. They were so much of a headache that she could barely walk at a certain stage.
After last playing in October (then retiring due to injury), she entered the India Open in an attempt to get back on her feet and regain a vital game ahead of the big season. Saina’s aura of the past may be missing, but her desire to learn and her fighting spirit remain intact.
The bronze medalist at the London Olympics on Wednesday got just the start she needed, defeating Czech Tereza Svabikova, who retired at the start of the second game when Saina led 22-20, 1-0. Saina is just happy to be back at work.
Playing after a long time, this (experience) only gives you confidence how to collect points because you can’t do the same during training and the intensity level is not the same. I’m happy with some of the points I got and hopefully it will help tomorrow (Thursday) “she said after the match.
After playing at an elite level for more than a decade, it took a toll on her body. Over the years, medical checkups have become frequent, and Saina has tried to explain her physical health. “I had three problems at the same time in my knee, I tore my cartilage, I had problems with my patella (…). My knee went through a lot of trauma, something that happened for months. Finally came a phase I couldn’t walk (…) after the French Open. When I came back and did a knee MRI, the doctor told me not to go to the World Cup. But I told him there were a lot of tournaments around the corner, but the doctor said ‘we can’t do much, you have to recover’ “I’m happy with my rehabilitation and I’ve had good training for seven, eight days and I’m happy to be able to play the level needed for the match. I didn’t expect to play in the India Open. Let’s see how far I can go,” she explained.
Her immediate challenge is Malvika Bansod, who later defeated Samiya Imad Farooqui 21-18, 21-9. This could be a tough test as Malvika is considered one of the budding stars in the country. Aakarshi Kashyap and HS Prannoy were the second shuttles from India to achieve victories for promotion.