Saina can become World No.1: Padukone

June 22nd, 2009 - 3:53 pm ICT by IANS  

By Anand Philar
Bangalore, June 22 (IANS) Saina Nehwal, the 19-year old from Hyderabad, is currently the “most complete player” in Indian badminton and has the making of a World No.1, says 1980 All-England champion and former World No.1 Prakash Padukone.

Speaking to IANS here Monday, Padukone said that Saina, who last night won a Super Series tournament in Indonesia defeating two top Chinese stars, has all the attributes to become a World champion provided she keeps her focus on her game.

Considering that Saina is just 19, Padukone felt that she can improve further. “She is the most complete player in Indian badminton now. Saina has an all-round game. She thinks and plays, and I feel, it is a lesson for all our top Indian players. All she needs to do now is to maintain her focus and work hard,” he said.

Padukone cautioned against getting swept away by the euphoria and accolades. “Yes, people are bound to celebrate and let them. The media will be after her, but they are only doing their job. Her job is to concentrate on her game. If she does that, I am certain she will become World No.1,” he commented.

The 54-year old maestro who runs an academy here, felt that Saina, presently ranked No.8 in the World and likely to improve her position by a couple of slots following her Indonesian triumph, has the three fundamental attributes that makes her a champion material.

“The three things that set her apart are the physical fitness, a sound technique and mental toughness. She is fearless and plays to her strength, like she did in the final yesterday. I watched the third game and I thought she played quite brilliantly.

“She was very strong at the net and used the dribble effectively as also some deception. In fact, the Chinese girl (World No.3 Wang Lin) looked totally out of place. I am trying to get a copy of the tape to show it to my wards at the academy,” he said.

Initially trained by Md. Arif and subsequently Pullela Gopi Chand, the 2001 All-England champion, Saina is undoubtedly the best woman badminton player India has produced, said Padukone referring to yesteryear stars like Madhumita Bisht (nee Goswamy) in the 1980s and Aparna Popat in the 1990s, both of whom showed rich promise but never quite made the grade at the highest level.

“Madhumita was fast and fit, but mentally not tough enough. She did not get much international exposure. Aparna was technically very good, but she got down to physical fitness rather late when she was 16. In comparison, Saina is much fitter than the other two, more determined and definitely fearless. She is not concerned about her opponent’s reputation unlike most Indian players,” he opined.

Looking ahead and reflecting on his own experience, Padukone said that Saina would now be under more pressure. “The expectations would be much higher now. I can say from my experience that staying at the top is more difficult than getting there. She should not worry about her ranking or points, but focus on excellence. The rest, like awards and accolades, will come automatically,” he pointed out.

Asked whether Saina should play in domestic tournaments or shift her base abroad like he did by moving to Copenhagen, Denmark, after winning the All-England crown, Padukone said: “If she plays in home tournaments, the benefit is for Indian badminton. Obviously, her participation will be a big draw and will attract more sponsorship etc., and Indian players will gain by playing her.

“We have good infrastructure and facilities in India and so she need not shift her base abroad. It was different in my time. She has reached a stage where she only needs to ask and it will be given.”

Padukone further hailed Saina’s success as a huge boost for Indian badminton. “She is a role model for young Indian players,” he said.

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