AS the IBL looks to grab eyeballs and get off the ground,one can hardly accuse them of taking things slow. The highlight of the tournament will come on the second day of the two-week long tournament. At the Siri Fort Stadium on Thursday,Indian badminton will finally get its marquee clash,between Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu.
The faceoff comes after a false start a couple of months ago. The two were initially expected to play each other in the quarterfinals of the India Open Super Series in April,but while Sindhu kept her appointment on her way to a semifinal appearance,Nehwal suffered a shock defeat after being match-point up in the second round against Japans Yui Hashimoto.
For several years Indian badminton was Saina Nehwal. After a bunch of Super Series titles and the historic Olympic bronze last year,she was the unquestioned star of the show. One year after London,however,Nehwal has company jostling for space at the top. While Sindhu had been typecast as the promising teenager,the World Championships bronze last week proves she belongs to the big league.
But despite the mouthwatering nature of the clash,both players have scarcely played it up. While praising Sindhu as ‘a talented player, Nehwal said she would prepare for the match as she would for any other. Sindhu too said she looked forward to playing Nehwal and uttered the usual courtesies about her senior.
Sindhu hasnt ever been overawed by Saina. She respects her as she would a senior but on court she is only looking to win, says Siya Dutt, assistant coach at the Gopichand Academy and head coach of the Awadhe Warriors franchise,for whom Sindhu is the icon player.
There is a bit of rock-paper-scissors in the match-up. With a preference for keeping the shuttle low,the lanky,smash-happy Sindhu can be seen as an Indian version of Chinas former world champion Wang Yihan,against whom Nehwal has a woeful 1-6 record. Sindhu on the other hand has struggled both times she has played Inthanon Ratchanok. The Thais style,with its reliance on deception and net play,is not unlike Nehwals game.
Former multiple-time National champion Aparna Popat says that while the analogy might seem accurate on the surface,things wont be the same,simply because Nehwal and Sindhu train together (and often play points against each other) at the same academy.
Just because Sindhu may have some difficulty reading Ratchanoks half-smash,it doesnt mean she will have the same problem against Sainas. Both may be deceptive players but simply because Sindhu has seen a lot more of Saina,not just in match situations,she will be able to pick the shot earlier and react faster. Its the same thing with Sindhus shots as well, Popat says.
HArd to predict
The simplistic prediction of the game pitting Sindhus smash and Nehwals net play thus cant stand scrutiny. Sitting in Sainas corner for the IBL match will be Rajender Kumar,like Siya Dutt another coach at the Gopichand Academy. There isnt anything Saina wouldnt know about Sindhu and there isnt any aspect of Sainas game that I wont get. So in that way both of them will be equal, says Dutt.
With both players knowing exactly what the other brings to the table,Popat says the winner of the match will simply be whoever innovates better on the day. No player can play with the same style or pace against every opponent all the time. The technique Saina uses against a Yihan wont be the same she can use against Sindhu. Because they know exactly what they are expecting from each other,both will have to find an aspect of their game that will prove decisive, she says.
This doesnt mean,however,that neither will have an edge. Nehwal is coming into the tournament in great physical shape. But while Sindhu had a knee injury a couple of months back,she is in the form of her life. Nehwals game,with its emphasis on high tosses,may struggle on the center court,which has pronounced drift from one end. Arundhati Pantwane,herself a former national champion who has played both Sindhu and Nehwal,says it is the latter who should have the advantage. If I had to pick a winner,right now it would be Saina. Sainas experience is going to be crucial. When you have played top-level competition as long as she has,its hard going to come up with something she hasnt seen before, she says.
Popat isnt too keen on making predictions. Despite being a coach at the rival Mumbai Masters franchise,she says she simply wants to watch what will be a great badminton match. You learn a bit and add skills from every opponent and thats what makes you a complete player, she says. Whoever wins it will be great to see them bring out a different aspect of their game.