Saina feels the pain

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SummarySaina Nehwal is staring at a distinctly underwhelming year-end, even as she’s dropped from No.3 in the world rankings to No.7

It is not just Sun Yu’s 6 foot-upwards frame that looms on Saina Nehwal’s badminton horizon, menacingly piercing her defences from right across the net. It isn’t just the increasing number of 1 hour-plus matches she’s labouring through, having played out the longest women’s singles match of the China Open at Shanghai this week. Saina Nehwal is staring at a distinctly underwhelming year-end, even as she’s dropped from No.3 in the world rankings to No.7 in a space of four months.

As such, you needn’t read too deeply into badminton’s rankings — the Chinese regularly slide down steeply and reclaim their Top 5 slots, owing to their precise choice of tournaments in which they pick bulk points. But what must worry Nehwal — whose fame and fortune have been based on consistency (she’s been in the Top 10 for close to five years now, in Top 5 for the most part) — is how the external factors: her opponents, average match durations, variety of contenders from different nations, have rapidly changed even as her game battles its own set of pressures.

Firstly, for a player whose entire game has relied on fitness, the spurt of injuries and niggles are career-debilitating, if not entirely career-threatening. After the knee and toe, now it’s a Achilles heel. What even slight niggles do is prolong recovery time, and matches like the 1 hr 15 minute-marathon that she was dragged into by Sun Yu, appear even longer as the decisive points stop going your way. Twice in the match, she attempted recoveries with a 7-straight-point surge, but she was also conceding momentum handing the 6’1” player an 11-point sweep mid-match that couldn’t have helped her confidence.

For Nehwal now the real tests are lined up at the Super Series level, where she’s scored her most inspiring wins over the last few years.

PV Sindhu’s bronze medal at the Worlds had helped Nehwal escape the scrutiny then. But with the CWG and Asiad scheduled for the next year, she’ll need to reconsider her priorities while choosing tournaments. 2014’s a slippery year, even without the ankle acting up and unsteadying her further.

(Shivani is an assistant editor based in Mumbai)

shivani.naik@expressindia.com

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