A shot in the arm

Having won only the Indian Open title this year, the Australian Super Series crown could not have come at a more appropriate time for Saina Nehwal, writes V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Saina Nehwal, finally, has something to cheer about and look back with a sense of pride: a Super Series title after a long wait. The Indian ace defeated World No. 11 Carolina Marin of Spain 21-18, 21-11 in the women’s singles final of the Australian Super Series in Sydney on June 29.

Under normal circumstances, the 2012 Olympics bronze medal winner’s victory in Australia would not have attracted much attention. But the fact that Saina has been struggling ever since the London Olympics — she had won just two titles, the Denmark Open Super Series (2012) and the Syed Modi International India Grand Prix (2014), during the period — lends significance to her victory in Sydney.

After a series of disappointing performances in recent months, Saina, ranked No. 8 in the world, was determined to halt the downslide. Having won only the Indian Open title this year (Saina defeated her practice partner and India’s next best player in women’s singles, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, in the final), the Australian Super Series crown could not have come at a more appropriate time for Saina.

In her 10th Super Series final, she seemed to be in her element from the word go, though Carolina did surprise her famed opponent with deft net dribbles on a few occasions. However, as the final — that lasted 43 minutes — progressed, it became clear that Saina was in no mood to let go the opportunity of winning the title. She unleashed her trademark half-smashes and drops to vanquish her Spanish rival.

Saina’s confidence was high, especially after out-slugging the World No. 2, Wang Shixian of China, in the semi-finals.

“It was a tough game, and at the end, (it was) great to beat a top player. Feeling great,” Saina remarked after defeating Shixian, the reigning Asian champion and two-time All England winner.

“This was the most challenging win because I had to prove this time that I am one of the best in the world,” she added.

On winning the Australian Super Series title, Saina said: “It is always a great feeling to win a Super Series title. No doubt, it was long due, but I am happy that I am back to winning ways and wish I keep doing this in major events and in the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“It was very painful because I played with blisters and it is a very special win.”

Throwing light on Saina’s victory, her mentor and the chief national coach, Pullela Gopi Chand, said it was only a question of getting things right at the right time. “It will be naive to say that Saina is talented to win a Super Series title, having proved repeatedly what a class player she is. Look at her win against Shixian in the semi-finals — it was class given the bad phase Saina has been going through of late,” he said.

“The Australian Super Series title should only help her regain her confidence. Such wins help even a player of Saina’s calibre, for they help change the momentum in the next big events. A win is a win and I sincerely hope she will enjoy this winning feeling in many more events,” Gopi added.