Saina effect showing on Indian badminton

February 22nd, 2009 - 4:09 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 22 (IANS) The Saina Nehwal effect could be seen at the national badminton championships at Indore earlier this week. Quite a few youngsters showed exceptional talent and, more important, they all believe they can excel at the international level in the manner of Indian badminton’s current role model.

New national women’s champion Sayali Gokhale, runner-up P.C. Thulasi, N. Sikki Reddy, Aparna Balan have shown their potential and the will to succeed. Add to the list Aditi Mutatkar, who missed the event with an injury. Her career graph is on the upswing as the only Indian girl, at No. 38, to be ranked in the top 50 besides World No. 10 Saina.

What they all need now is the confidence with which Saina steps on the court, says former national champion and coach Vimal Kumar. The Hyderabadi was missed at the national as she was recuperating from a shoulder injury.

“Skill-wise, they can match Saina, they can take a game off her but they cannot beat her mentally. Saina is fearless and can psyche her opponents into submission. She is not scared of losing, that’s her strength. She never gives up and that’s one quality these girls will have to acquire,” Vimal told IANS.

To illustrate the point, Vimal recalls how Saina, watching former national champion Aparna Popat go down to World No. 15 Tracy Hallam of England at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, turned to him to say in all seriousness, “I can beat her,” making mental notes of the Briton’s game.

“It was not arrogance, she spoke with confidence and conviction. I was struck by the zeal and enthusiasm of a girl, who was in her early teens and who had hardly played international badminton worth the name. It was amazing and I decided to throw her into the deep end of the water by fielding her. I faced a lot of opposition in the team meeting when I said Saina will be playing the next singles,” said Vimal.

Saina did not let down Vimal. She convincingly beat higher ranked players from Singapore and New Zealand to help India qualify for the semi-finals. And true to her word, she beat Tracy in the singles in the semi-finals. India went on to win the bronze in the team event, thanks to Saina.

That’s the beginning of Saina’s amazing success story and today India’s badminton owes a lot to her.

Vimal sees shades of Saina in Thulasi, the find of the tournament. The little-known girl kept surprising better-known opponents till she ran out of steam in the final.

“The Kerala girl is a great find,” says Vimal.

Thulasi often visits Bangalore to train at the Tata Padukone Badminton Academy (TPBA) where Vimal is a coach.

“She is very sincere and committed. The fact that she upset top players is a testimony to her temperament.”

It was a double delight for Vimal as Sayali is also from the TPBA as is men’s champion Aravind Bhat.

“Sayali is a touch player and deceptive at the net. She is soft-spoken and gives the impression of being timid on court. We had to drill into her mind that she has to be more aggressive and show a positive attitude. Skill-wise she has improved and she now has good finishing strokes,” says Vimal.

Saina’s rise was such that it has overshadowed some gritty performances of the men.

The men have also improved their rankings. Chetan Anand is the highest ranked Indian at 13 followed by Bhat (28), Anup Sridhar (38), Anand Pawar (45) and Parupalli Kashyap (47).

Like Saina, defending champion Chetan skipped the national and that gave opportunity to others to match their wits. Pawar, Ajay Jayram, Kashyap, Guru Sai Dutt have all shown sparks, but they could not stop the more experienced Bhat from winning the singles title for the first time.

“It is an exciting time for Indian badminton with so many quality youngsters. I am sure that at least four will make it to the top-15 very soon,” says Bhat.

Bhatt was relieved that he could win the national seven years after he made his first final appearance and after four failed attempts to win the crown.

“It was a big relief. I used to wonder what else I needed to do to win the national. Now I can focus on international tournaments.”

However, Vimal feels that the players were under a lot of pressure to perform at the nationals.

“Nationals being the only domestic tournament in the entire year, the players were under a lot of pressure. The Badminton Association of India needs to find ways to organise more domestic tournaments.”

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