World Badminton Championships 2017: Saina Nehwal buries injury demons with laudable bronze
Saina Nehwal certainly can take heart from the fact that she is on the right track for better performances after being laid low for a long time because of serious and career-threatening knee injury.
Saina Nehwal may not very pleased with having been stopped in the World Championships semi-finals in Glasgow by a player, she had beaten six times in previous seven clashes. But Saina certainly can take heart from the fact that she is on the right track for better performances after being laid low for a long time because of serious and career-threatening knee injury.
In between the 2015 silver at Jakarta and the World Championships bronze in Glasgow, Saina has been through a whole lot trials and tribulations but it can be said that she has made a successful comeback.
Saina came through a treacherous draw and on the way she beat No 2 seed Sung Ji Hyun and then eliminated Kirsty Gilmour in the quarters. On Saturday she lost to 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Nozomi Okuhara 21-12, 17-21, 10-21 in 74 minutes of intense battle.
On Saturday, Saina, who had not reached the semi-finals at any major event, barring the win at the Malaysia Masters – a Grand Prix event, as opposed to much higher rated 10 Super Series title she has won in her career. Before the Malaysia Masters, her last big title was the Super Series event, the India Open in 2015. Later that year she finished runner-up in Jakarta for her first ever medal at the World Championships.
Then came the low period. She ran into injuries, the extent of which even she did not realize. The results were naturally not the kinds Saina expected from herself.
She went straight from Rio to a hospital for a knee surgery. It was a painful one and even she did not know whether she could come back from that. She did.
From there, she has made her way back – through the world of unseeded players. “I am happy with my performance. Being unseeded and reaching the semis and playing with some of the best players. I gave her (Okuhara) a tough time and maybe I could have won, but it was not my day. This was one of the few semi-finals I played this year, so I am happy,” she said.
Last night after a gutsy win over local favourite Kirsty Gilmour, whose jump smashes have to be seen to be believed, Saina revealed she may not even have gone to the Olympic Games had she known how serious the injury was. "Only I know what I went through. I shouldn't have gone to Rio, I didn't know I had a major injury. The belief of my parents and coach helped me get back (to this stage in Glasgow). I still have tendonitis in the (right) knee.” added Saina whose campaign in Rio ended at the group stage.
“Only I know how much it hurts. I often cry but I am willing to go through that if I can win and play my best,” she said couple of days back. Each day, each match is painful, but it is also a road to where she wants to be again – among the best in her sport.
On Saturday Okuhara, who while preventing the possibility of an all-Indian final, created history of her own by becoming the first Japanese woman in a singles final at the World Championships. The same Okuhara, who was thwarted by PV Sindhu from entering the Olympic final last year, avenged that by defeating Saina in the World Championships semis.
On the difference between first and the next two games, Saina said, “The big difference was that she started picking more difficult shots and play longer rallies. I tried my best to keep up with the rallies and increase my pace, but she was very good today. In the third game she was everywhere and I was confused. She picked up those close drops and went ahead with half smashes and smashes. Actually she was pretty good today.”
As for the fact that both Saina and Okuhara played late last night and were back on the courts in 15 hours, Saina, said, “Yes, playing late matches and getting little time to recover does take a toll. But Okuhara also played late yesterday. I was surprised at the schedule. I thought we might get a different scheduling, but we got to play in the morning,” said Saina.
On what could be the plan in coming months, she added, “Yes I am happy with the progress. The more I play the more I will know about them. I hope I stay fit, and I am in shape and not get injured like last year. This year I played just 8-9 tournaments. I was away for a long time because of the knee injury. As I am coming back I am happy with my condition and next year itself will be very tough with Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.”
But for now, it will be back to the training courts, Super Series events and then 2018.
Sindhu, a silver medallist at Rio Games, notched up a 21-15 21-13 win over 13th seed Blichfeldt in a 41-minute match.
The soft-spoken Indian ace was not known for her aggression till five years back and it was chief national coach Pullela Gopichand, who had transformed her into an aggressive player ahead of the Rio Games.
The world number seven Indian will next play Hong Kong's world number 34 Cheung Ngan Yi in the group stage.