Looking out for an Indian in the draw

Saina Nehwal’s brilliant performance in major international competitions against players of varied skills has helped inspire a legion of young players from various badminton academies at home, writes Nandakumar Marar.

Saina Nehwal’s victories over leading Chinese players, Wang Lin and Lan Lu, on way to winning the Indonesian Open Super Series title in Jakarta recently has changed the way the Indian players are viewed on the world badminton circuit. While the 19-year-old now has an identity of her own in world badminton, there are a few other Indians showing promise.

V. Diju and Jwala Gutta are ranked World No. 8 in mixed doubles (International Badminton Federation Rankings, July 2, 2009); Chetan Anand and Aravind Bhat are among the top 25 men’s singles players in the world and Aditi Mutatkar is placed No. 31 in women’s singles. India is certainly being seen as a major badminton-playing nation in the world.

Chetan Anand, however, points out that the Indian players can no longer think of catching their rivals by surprise. “Saina has done so well and there are others trying to make a mark. So, everyone knows our game now. Earlier we used to study the Chinese, now it can be said that they are tracking us,” said the World No. 14.

Aravind Bhat endorsed Chetan’s views. “We used to look at the Chinese players earlier and say ‘he/she is Chinese’. Now we hear others talking at tournaments about ‘the Indian’ in the draw. I hope sponsors take note (of this).”

Saina’s brilliant performance in major international competitions against players of varied skills has helped raise the enthusiasm levels among the girls from various badminton academies at home.

National women’s champion Sayali Gokhale asserted: “Saina is an inspiration for all of us. If she can do it, there is a feeling we also can. We will work hard for it.”

Sayali has moved base from Pune to the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bangalore in pursuit of a badminton career. Neha Pandit and Gayatri Vartak are the other youngsters following the same route.

Vimal Kumar, the coach at the Padukone Academy, emphasises that the real gain from Saina’s victories will come when the players and coaches realise that effective net play can be a great weapon.

The former international said, “Net play comes naturally to us. You should know the right time to use it in a match. Saina showed that intelligence, believed in herself and was able to execute the lessons learnt in training.

“Most of our coaches try to infuse aggression in the youngsters, in tune with the way badminton is played at the top. The Chinese and the Koreans are physically different from us, so we should be playing to our strengths.”

According to Vimal, the coaches and juniors should have watched Saina in action at the Indonesian Open final to know how effective net play can be and how it can rattle even the best of players. “Net play is not just about playing close to the net; it is a way of winning by deception. Spending hours on court practising strokes required to have the command at the net is the best way to gain confidence,” he said.

“Finally it is up to the players to understand and execute the lessons they learn,” he added.