India Open could see a first: Sindhu-Saina face-off

In a bid to glitz things up,the organisers of the India Open Super Series made the nation’s top shuttlers walk the ramp. Teenager PV Sindhu

Written by Jonathan Selvaraj | New Delhi | Published: April 23, 2013 1:41:56 am

In a bid to glitz things up,the organisers of the India Open Super Series made the nation’s top shuttlers walk the ramp. Teenager PV Sindhu was excited to dressing up and be in the spotlight. But,like everyone else on stage,Sindhu knew who would get the most applause from the crowd. As the world No. 2,and the winner of India’s first badminton Olympic medal,Saina Nehwal is without doubt Indian badminton’s diva,both on the off the court.

But Sindhu,clapping in the background alongside the rest of the participants at the show,can dream of being in Saina’s place one day. The 17-year-old is the second highest ranked Indian in the world at 16. Here at the Indian Open,Sindhu,seeded eighth,happens to be in the same half as the top-seed Nehwal. This also means the two can end up meeting each other in the quarterfinals.

“It is a good thing,” Saina had said of the possible encounter which would be the first time the two have met in competition. “Before we have had situations where two men from India faced each other in big tournaments. But it might be for the first time two women might end up playing each other,” she said.

But Saina quickly added a note of caution. “I take on a difficult opponent in the first round,” she said about playing World No. 37 Baelatrix Manuputi of Indonesia. Incidentally,Saina has failed to go past the second round in last last two editions of this event.

Sindhu,who has a better record having reached the semi-finals last time around,too hasn’t got it easy. She plays China’s Yao Xue. Although she is only ranked 65 in the world,on the one occasion she played Sindhu,a couple of years ago at the China Open,she had won 21-9,21-12. Coach Pullela Gopichand too was guarded in his predictions. “It’s too early to say anything. I will be advising both Saina and Sindhu to take things one day at a time. Both have equally tough first round matches,” he said.

He emphasises that it was important not to get too carried away by Sindhu’s wins over the Chinese players Olympic champion Li Xerui and former World No. 1 Wang Shixian this year. Gopicand points out that both those wins were followed by defeats in the next round. Sindhu lost to Japan’s Eriko Hirose in the very next round after beating Shixian. “Both Li Xerui and Shixian have been very inconsistent of late. The game is becoming very competitive. Even as our players are improving,it is becoming very challenging as shuttlers from other parts of the world are also getting better. So all we can do is try and support them as much as we can,” he said.

Gopichand said that players from Chinese Taipei and Thailand,most notably the 17-year-old Intanon Ratchanok,provide fresh challenge to the Indian girls. The coach went on to add that Sindhu is still a work in progress. “Her inconsistency is simply because she is still growing and learning to adjust. So just a year ago she would take four steps to get from the baseline to the net. Now she can get there in three. These changes naturally create a sense of confusion in her mind,” he says.

Gopichand’s solution to this dilemma is simple: play more matches. “Inthanon has a lot of strokes but she doesn’t make many mistakes. She isn’t afraid to go for any of her shots and that can only come when you have played enough matches. If Sindhu has to be like her she has to do the same,” he says.

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