The growing fears of the organisers of the $120,000 Syed Modi International badminton championship came true on Monday afternoon. For the fourth time since December 2011, Saina Nehwal decided to withdraw from the premier event.
A day after winning the Malaysia Masters, Saina sent a mail to the organisers on the eve of the Grand Prix Gold event, stating, “As the competition was really tough for me in Malaysia Open and last two (weeks) were really tough with PBL so total of three weeks back-to-back tough matches. As of now, I’m feeling some pain in my knee because the courts were really hard. Here, I need some time break (sic) for my knee so that I don’t push the knee too much, with so many tough matches, without getting full fitness and strength in my knee. So I request you to kindly withdraw my name from Lucknow GP Gold tournament.”
Top seeded Thai Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, fourth seed Ajay Jayaram and 14th seed P. Kashyap, who hurt his shoulder during the Premier Badminton League Final in New Delhi on January 14 and women’s seventh seed G. Ruthvika Shivani also pulled out.
Even though Saina officially withdrew from the event at 3:47 pm, the organisers were expecting the second seeded former champion to cite a valid reason to stay away.
Unlike her previous withdrawals here, Saina has a valid reason to stay away this time. She underwent a knee-surgery post Rio Olympics last year and is yet to return to her peak fitness level.
Saina did make a hurried comeback within three months of the surgery with an eye on a spot in the eight-player field for the year-ending BWF World Superseries Finals in Dubai. Eventually, Saina lost the eighth and final spot to P. V. Sindhu, who reached the semifinals on debut.
Showing encouraging progress during the PBL, where the 11-point format was adopted, Saina pulled off some morale-boosting victories but lost to World champion Carolina Marin and Sindhu.
As expected, Saina’s withdrawal dampened the spirit of the organisers. “We wish Saina speedy recovery. At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that the much-anticipated clash between top seed Sindhu and Saina wouldn’t take place here this month,” said a senior local official who has been associated with the event since its inception. In fact, the BAI president Akhilesh Das Gupta hails from this city and Saina’s absence repeatedly takes away the sheen from the event.
It may be recalled that, in the past, three-time champion Saina has found reasons to miss the event.
In December 2011, Saina cited fatique and sudden fever to withdraw, thereby allowing Chinese Taipie’s Ma Pai Hsiao an entry into the second round. In 2012, Saina decided to give up when holding two match-points at 21-17, 20-18 against Russia’s Ksenia Polikarpova in the first round. In fact, this ‘act’ did not go down well with the Badminton Association of India officials. An official later revealed that Saina had indicated her unwillingness to play the previous day and her return ticket to Hyderabad were booked before she took the court for the opening round.
Given this background, Saina’s explanation that, “I was playing well but suddenly felt some problem with my knee, so I decided to quit” was scoffed at in the BAI circles.
In the final here in January 2014, Saina got the better of Sindhu in their only clash in an BWF event. Since then, Sindhu has been preparing to get even with her more illustrious rival.
And last January, as defending champion, Saina pulled out due to a foot-injury and fever. In fact, Saina is proud of the fact that she has not lost a completed match at this venue. But she is clearly losing her supporters in this part of the world.
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