World No. 3 now makes it 3 on 3

Fifteen matches in 19 days,winning her way to the World No. 3 position and three titles in as many tournaments.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Published: June 28, 2010 3:43 am

Fifteen matches in 19 days,winning her way to the World No. 3 position and three titles in as many tournaments.

Seldom has an Indian athlete in an individual sport looked so habituated to winning and settling for nothing less,in energy-sapping battles,in recent years. Single-handedly — her of the tenacious right hand — Saina Nehwal is raising the bar for a fit,strong and gladiatorial Indian sportsperson.

After successive Super Sundays in Chennai (Indian Open Grand Prix Gold) and Singapore (her 2nd career Super Series title),Saina beat back the challenge of a stubborn Sayaka Sato from Japan to defend her Indonesian Open crown today. The scoreline — 21-19,13-21,21-11 — was a testimony to the indomitable Hyderabadi’s battling skills and firm resolve against physical and mental fatigue.

“I’ve never played 15 matches in so few days… But the first two titles gave me confidence to go for the third one… No,I never considered not winning this one an option. I was always confident even in the tough phase today. However,I’d never dreamt of three-in-a-row,” Saina said,her words coming out in short spurts as the exhaustion seeped into her voice soon after winning the title.

“Sato got very strong in the second set and started hitting very hard. But I played more at the net,avoiding the high lift game that made me vulnerable,” Saina said.

She was glad that her dominating play in the third ensured she won by a distance. It was here that her finishing prowess stood out against the innumerable tragedies in Indian sport when athletes have cracked under pressure.

Former India No.1 Aparna Popat,who watched the fightback from her Mumbai home,said: “There was a time a year and a half ago when critics thought she was weak in the last few important points. She seems to have learnt a lot from those losses. She makes each and every chance,small or big,count.”

The only sign of a “stage fright” from the 20-year-old was when she entered the packed stadium and looked up with a short,nervous smile at the vociferous Indian supporters at the Istora Senayan in Jakarta who welcomed her with a roar.

Also watching from the sidelines was fellow Indian shuttler Aditi Mutatkar,who said: “It was an unbelievably proud moment to watch her play today.”

While maintaining that there were bigger tournaments to win,coach Pullela Gopichand commended Saina’s sheer perseverance. “Three back-to-back will be difficult even for Saina to replicate. Of course there’ll be bigger events starting with the World Championship in August,where she plays next,when the Chinese will be out in full force and she’ll be scrutinised,targeted and tested. But three weeks of excellence is a new high for an Indian athlete,” he added.

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