Saina proves she’s as tough as they come

You don’t tell Saina Nehwal to relax,sleep late,or take it easy on the morning of an important final — the third in three weeks.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Published: June 28, 2010 12:04 am

You don’t tell Saina Nehwal to relax,sleep late,or take it easy on the morning of an important final — the third in three weeks. Nehwal’s energy reserves might be scraping the bottom of the barrel after 14 matches and her body knotting into pain-triggers each morning she had woken up to play yet another game of badminton.

But nothing stopped her from hitting the practice courts at 6 am on three of the days leading up to the final,after physio Dr Kiran Challangunda recommended a rigorous strength-increasing workout,besides the recovery rituals.

Sayaka Sato challenged the World No 3’s game on tactical fronts,but Nehwal didn’t let the exhaustion of the last three weeks even skim over the surface,as she won 21-19 13-21 21-11 in a hard-fought encounter.

“For Saina,the toughest time was before the semifinals in Indonesia,” Challangunda says,adding,“Because you are playing the toughest matches in the end and your body is getting weak,you need both recovery and strengthening so that your strokes are not feeble. So we went to court on the morning of semis and finals for very tough strengthening sessions.”

It wasn’t just preparing the body to the limits of enduring tiredness,but striking on the counter,and being readier than ever for running longer,hitting harder. The 20-year-old had played Russian Ella Diehl in a tough 3-setter the day before the semis,and her movements were very slow and recovery hardest as the weekend set in. Once she survived the semis — she decimated Eriko Hirose in 27 minutes — Nehwal’s team of coaches and trainers knew she’d last through the finals.

“It was a struggle from the very first game in Indonesia,” stresses coach Bhaskar Babu who guided her tactically through the final,adding,“We had intensive massage,muscle relaxation sessions and she was also in the swimming pool and jacuzzi,recovering the time she wasn’t playing. But Saina’s game depends on taking every shuttle,which means she has to reach the corners quickly.”

Even as Sato unleashed her smashes and summoned some ridiculously acute angles at the net,stretching the slow-moving Nehwal and winning the second set 21-13,Nehwal prevailed in court coverage,as she slowly plotted her decider. The fatigue led to the errors which forced Nehwal to drop the second game,but she returned for the third ready to grab the momentum by the scruff.

Three weeks isn’t just an hour of match-play,but also includes travel across three countries and recovery for matches the very next day. “She’s used to two tournaments in a row,but three back-to-back meant keeping up the discipline,’ Babu says,adding,“Though,not when your trainee is Saina Nehwal. She’ll do whatever it takes to win matches — even 15 in a row.”

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