Former World champion Ratchanok Inthanon of Thailand says she needs to learn a trick or two from her gritty Indian rival Saina Nehwal, who always comes across more determined to win during their on-court duels.
Ratchanok, a two-time champion at the India Open, has a dismal head-to-head record of 5-11 against Saina, who has defeated her in the last five meetings.
“I expect too much from myself when I play against Saina. I know Saina is strong and never gives up. Like in the Asian Games, I was leading 17-9 or something but I lost. So she is a good fighter and I have to learn from her. Saina has come back stronger,” Ratchanok said.
The 24-year-old from Thailand, a three-time world junior champion, has a better record Saina’s compatriot and Olympic silver-medallist P V Sindhu, though she has failed to beat the Indian in last three encounters.
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“I also like Sindhu. I’m closer to her as we are almost same age and she sometimes supports me,” Ratchanok said.
“I know Saina has a better record against Sindhu. I don’t know what is the reason but I think when Saina plays against me or Sindhu, she is more determined.”
Interestingly, Ratchanok and Sindhu hit the headlines together at the 2013 World Championship where the Thai went on to become the youngest champion after shocking Olympic champion Li Xuerui of China, while Sindhu stunned defending champion Wang Yihan and former champion Wang Shixian.
While Ratchanok has gone on to win more titles -- four World Tour events and six Super Series tournaments -- Sindhu has mostly struggled in the final. “Sindhu sometimes probably gets excited like me, so mentality is important. It controls everything.
“With good mentality, Sindhu can win more titles. She is also under more pressure because she lost in big tournaments and she expects to win when she plays next in big events. She is too anxious about the results,” Ratchanok explained.
Among the current crop of players, Ratchanok has the best record of 13-10 against world no.1 Tai Tzu Ying, a formidable shuttler from Chinese Taipei who has completely dominated the international circuit in the last two years.
“Everyone asks me about my record with Tai Tzu. We have the same style and I am not afraid when I play her or don’t think too much. Tai Tzu plays more difficult shots them me, but somewhere I feel she knows me and I know her,” Ratchanok said.
'I’m scared of getting injured'
Ratchanok, however, doesn’t want to exert herself too much for a third title at the ongoing India Open as she is wary of getting injured in an Olympic qualification year due to the hectic international schedule.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) revamped its structure in 2018, making it compulsory for the world’s top-15 players in the singles events and top-10 pairs in the doubles disciplines to play a minimum of 12 out of 15 World Tour tournaments or face a penalty.
The first three months of the new BWF season has already seen injuries to top players such as three-time world champion Carolina Marin, former world no.1 Korean Son Wan Ho and China’s fast-rising Gao Fangjie.
The Olympic qualification period begins April 29 with the BWF ranking on April 30, 2020 being the cut-off for the allocation of spots for the Tokyo Olympics.
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“I am worried about injury as it takes a long time to recover so I have to take care of my body,” said Ratchanok, who brushed aside India’s Sai Uttejitha 21-9 21-6 in the opening round.
The 24-year-old Thai has battled injuries ever since she burst onto the scene with a world championship gold in 2013. She suffered a foot injury the same year.
In the 2015 world championship, she was stretchered off court due to another injury. She also picked up a nagging knee injury at the Rio Olympics which troubled her in 2016 and 2017.
“What is good for me right now is to maintain my fitness. This is the Olympic qualification year and an important year for everyone, all the players will look to play a lot of tournaments for ranking points,” she said.
“It is crucial for me to win I know but I don’t want to pressure myself for winning the championship,” she added.
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