Icing on the cake for Saina Nehwalhttps://indianexpress.com/article/sports/badminton/icing-on-the-cake-2/

Icing on the cake for Saina Nehwal

Saina wins maiden India Open title to go with her ascension to the No. 1 spot.

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Saina became world number one on Saturday and then won her maiden India Open Super Series. (Source: PTI)

Saina Nehwal may have sealed the number one spot in the world rankings on Saturday itself but she will have to wait a few days for the results to be made official on the BWF website. As such Nehwal might have felt the need to ensure she has a title of some sort to go along with the statistical achievement. It truly was a coronation of sorts as Nehwal beat former World Champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand 21-16 21-14 to claim her maiden India Open Super Series title. Nehwal had never made it past the quarterfinal stage in four previous attempts.

Nehwal would not have been expecting an easy win against an opponent who had proven a tricky challenge in the past. Nehwal has a 5-3 record against the Thai and had won the last time the two had played in May, last year, but the Thai was recovering from injury back then. Since then though, Ratchanok has managed to find a bit of form and had reached the final after beating the defending World and All England champion Carolina Marin in the semifinals.

It was however a completely dominant performance from Nehwal who was off the court in 49 minutes. Making up with deception at the net what she lacks in power, Ratchanok is also able to wrong foot her opponents from the back court from where she picks them off with drop shots. However the 84-minute match with Marin had clearly taken a toll on the Thai. Nehwal admitted that her opponent seemed slow after her semifinal while Ratchanok said her body was ‘tired’.

With Nehwal’s own movements quick and her shots accurate, frankly the Thai had little chance.

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The first few points of the match saw Ratchanok having to corkscrew her body as she attempted to make clears from the back of the court. She was obviously having trouble picking the variations in Nehwals overhead clears. She wasn’t moving quickly enough to get behind the shuttle and was forced into making errors. Nehwal stormed off to a 4-0 lead off which three points were shots that found the net from the Thai.

Uncertain at the back, Ratchanok moved to the net and won her first point with a cross court net shot that barely cleared the barrier. However that point would be an exception as Nehwal routinely got early into position to clear her shots or return them with net shots of her own. With what were expected to be routine winners finding their way back at her, the Thai was getting frustrated.

“The way I was moving today, I was picking all her tricky strokes and she was not liking it, so she made a lot of errors. She gets tense when you pick her strokes,” Nehwal said after the match.

Nehwal has a reputation as an attacking rallyer and indeed there were smashes but many were set up with the deceptive clears from the mid court that is a relatively new facet of her game. Ratchanok managed a streak of four straight points to close in to 12-10 in the first game but she wouldn’t be finding a comeback. Nehwal pulled off a backhand smash from the net to an attempted clear to make it 13-10 and then reeled off another five points to make it 18-10. A error on the backhand from Ratchanok gave Nehwal game point and although the Thai managed to save four, she sent another clear long to give Nehwal the first game.

The next game saw Nehwal play more of her attacking game. The Indian quickly opened up a 5-0 lead. Ratchanok’s clears were falling towards the mid court and Nehwal was quickly in position to kill the shot. Ratchanok made things harder for herself with a series of unforced errors as the Indian went into the break with a 11-6 lead. After the break, Intanon caught Saina a few times at the forecourt but those were few as Nehwal raced to a 17-11 lead. Intanon reduced the gap to 18-14 but the Thai girl once again hit out twice to first give Nehwal the match point and then the title.

Other results:

Women’s doubles: Misaki Matsumoto/ Ayaka Takahashi bt Luo Ying/ Luo Yu 21-19 21-19;

Mixed doubles: Liu Cheng/ Bao Yixin bt Joachim Fischer Nielsen/ Christinna Pedersen 21-19 21-19;

Mens doubles: Chai Biao/ Hong Wei bt Mads Conrad-Petersen/ Mads Pieler Kolding 21-18 21-14.