On Thursday, Saina Nehwal, managed to reach the quarterfinals of the Yonex Sunrise India Open on her fourth attempt. A friendly draw has obviously helped. In her first round, Saina was pitted against an Austrian ranked 79th in the world.
On Tuesday, she faced Natcha Saengchote — a Thai 18-year-old who is playing her first pro season. Nehwal won 21-15 21-12 in 36 minutes. But if Nehwal wants to make the semifinals of her home Super Series, she faces a far stiffer challenge. The draw so kind to Nehwal initially now pitches her against World No. 2 Wang Yihan.
There are few easy opponents on the international circuit from China but Yihan is probably the worst possible opponent Nehwal could hope to encounter. The Indian trails Yihan 7-1 in head to head encounters. The Chinese had demolished her 21-13 21-13 in the Olympic semis.
Although Nehwal had finally emerged victorious a little later courtesy an injury pullout in the Denmark Open, the old order was restored at this year’s All England Championships where the Chinese won 21-17 21-12.
“Saina hasn’t had a lot of luck against Yihan because the Chinese is very deceptive,” reckons former national champion Vimal Kumar. “If her (Yihan’s) opponent is aggressive (like Saina), she replies by bringing a lot of variation to her strokes. She is very strong at the net and her flat clears and downward shots from the back of the court unsettle Saina,” says Kumar. “Nehwal is an attacking player but that pace suits Yihan,” says Kumar.
However Yihan’s game leaves open a window of opportunity. Tall shuttlers tend to struggle with their movement and Yihan at 178 cm is one of the taller ones on the circuit. Yihan is powerful and deceptive and her deft strokeplay and quick hands mask her less than equivalent movement. “Three or four years back, Yihan would have been near impossible to beat. But over the last couple of years Yihan, (who has suffered back and knee injuries), has slowed down and this given opponents a little bit more of a chance,” says multiple National Champion and current coach of the national team, Madhumita Bisht. While Nehwal has had two easy outings so far, Yihan has been pushed harder and even lost a game to Japan’s Shizuka Uchida on Thursday.
“What Saina will to look forward to is how quickly Yihan is lunging towards the net and if she is getting late while retrieving,” says Kumar. Its something that hasn’t escaped Nehwal. “I just hope my movements and strokes goes well and I have to more confident, she will be very aggressive, so I have to be really ready tomorrow,” she said.
“Saina must rally but she can’t allow Yihan to dictate the pace of the rally. She needs to counter in the rally while ensuring Yihan doesn’t get to,” says Kumar. “She looks to have lost a bit of confidence over the last year but if she starts well against Yihan that could take her through.
Tough task for Kashyap
But while Nehwal can still take some confidence from the fact that she has a win against Yihan, the only other Indian in the quarterfinals can take little comfort from past performances. In the men’s section, P Kashyap reached the quarterfinals after a 21-1516-2121-11 win over RMV Gurusaidutt.
His opponent is World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei against whom he has never taken a game. The two time Olympic silver medalist has been in ominous form so far in the tournament, not allowing his opponents to get to double digits in any game. “In terms of endurance, strokeplay and skill, Kashyap can’t compete with Chong Wei. But the Malaysian sometimes gets complacent and that’s perhaps when Kashyap can take his chance,” says Kumar. Kashyap said he would be focusing on keeping his defence tight. “It will be a big challenge for me. I need to be solid in my defence. He is a fast player so I should be up to control his speed,” he said.
Indian Results: Lee Chong Wei bt Sourabh Verma 21-9 21-6; Christinna Pedersen/ Kamilla Rytter Juhl bt Dhanya Nair/ Mohita Sahdev 21-4 21-9, Quing Tian/Yunlei Zhao bt Jwala Gutta/ Ashwini Ponappa 21-13 21-19, Yeon Ju Bae bt Sayali Gokhale 21-15 21-8, Aprilla Yuswandari bt Trupti Murgunde 21-13 21-12.