Badminton is changing faster than you would imagine. So on Day 1 of the Indonesian Open Super Series – one of badminton’s biggest meets and known in India as Saina Nehwal’s stomping ground for three championship years – quite a few of shuttle’s certainties had turned on their head.
For one, an American was ranked higher than Nehwal for the first time in her career – Beiwen Zhang started in Jakarta on her career-high World No.10, one spot above the Indian at No.11.
Three Indians are in the world’s Top 15, and a Korean man sits atop the men’s singles rankings table. Later in the day, Olympic champion Carolina Marin flubbed two match points against 19-year-old Chinese Chen Xiaoxin to exit a tournament in the first round. It was joked that China’s top-ranked mixed doubles pairing Zheng Siwei and Chen Qingchen finally looked like World 1s against their Sudirman conquerors, the Koreans.
And finally, Saina Nehwal shrugged off the injury-induced downslide that’s tottering towards 12 months, and emerged a giant in defensive barricading as Round 1s in women’s singles were wrapped up on a Tuesday giving them a day to recover on Wednesday.
The last time Saina Nehwal had looked in good nick (her standards are Super Series title-high) in Australia last year she had accounted for former world champ Intanon Ratchanok. On Tuesday, the Indian 27-year-old rallied from a set down to beat the Thai 17-21, 21-18, 21-12 effecting a gutsy turnaround in the second half of the match, to change the complexion of an off-colour year.
After winning in 57 minutes, Saina Nehwal who also made the World Championship finals in Indonesia two seasons ago, said as much. “I am really happy to be improving. I’ve lost so many matches that nowadays people are not seeing me beyond the first or second round,” she would tell the BWF website after the match.
Nehwal had struggled to close out the opening set 17-21 after leading 10-4, conceding the lead at 14-all. She was relentless in defense, often drawing out errors from Ratchanok, World No.8 seeded 8th, by her sheer dint of persistence which saw her lunge low in retrieves through the second set. Leading 12-7, Nehwal would stutter a tad to allow the Thai in at 16-all, but forge on to take matters into a decider, winning the mid-set 21-18. Ratchanok’s resistance had been broken in this defiance as she rolled over 21-12 to push Nehwal into Round 2.
“Playing Ratchanok in the first round was very tricky. I am happy to have a good record against her because she is one of the toughest players on the circuit,” Nehwal added, maintaining that she was still only looking to find more strength in her legs. “I am not worried about results. Once I am playing well, the results will come,” she added.
Nehwal wasn’t exactly turning back time at Indonersia where she won her first crown in 2009. But she was dogged in her defense, reclaiming her confidence and focus at a favourite venue. “I won my first Super Series in Indonesia and I have usually done well here,” she would say.
Ratchanok said Saina was well prepared. “Even better than she (Saina) was in Thailand a week ago.while I felt tired and not physically and mentally in good condition,” she told BWF.