When Saina Nehwal clinched the championship point in the Thailand Grand Prix Gold badminton tournament on Sunday, she simply clinched her fist, smiled at her coach Pullela Gopi Chand before heaving a sigh of relief and walking to shake hands with her opponent Ratchanok Inthanon.
This was Saina’s second international title in the year 2012 and would go a long way in easing the pressure on her shoulders given the criticism she faced last year for the lack of titles.
Add to that, this is a period where every victory or loss is interpreted by fans, media and sometimes even by the player’s themselves as a statement of their ability to win an Olympic medal.
In that context, even by Saina’s standards the celebrations were pretty subdued. But then one of Saina’s biggest asset has been her ability to stay grounded when everyone around her is euphoric about her achievements.
And the Commonwealth Games gold medallist would be the first to admit that this victory means nothing more than a confidence booster ahead of next week’s Indonesia Super Series.
True that winning is a habit and every victory needs to be cherished for the consistency and effort shown by the sportsperson. But in the context of Saina’s entire trophy cabinet, the Thailand Open crown would sit somewhere in the bottom half in terms of the competition she encountered.
With the Uber Cup finals preceding this tournament, none of the other top-10 players were in the fray and among the five opponents she faced enroute to her triumph only Inthanon would be taking the flight to London a few weeks from now.
And in the final, Saina had to rely a lot on her physical advantage and much better stamina than her opponent, who is just 17 and has played 24 tournaments in the last 12 months and is not at her peak fitness.
But this will not be the case in Indonesia where the Chinese would come in full strength and even the Koreans would have a formidable presence.
Gopi Chand was quick to admit that the title triumph was important in the context of the next tournament and not the Olympics.
“It is a very good victory and a very important one going into the next tournament which is in Indonesia. Hopefully, she will do well there and after that we will have five weeks of training for the Olympics,” he told the Press Trust of India.
Everyone in India would love to see Saina on the podium in London, but let’s not build the pressure on her by beginning the Olympic medal talk as yet.