Shuttler Saina is confident to take on tougher opponents

June 17th, 2008 - 7:48 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) Buoyed by her maiden Super Series semifinal appearance at the Singapore Open badminton tournament, Saina Nehwal says her aim is to continue in the same vein and peak in time for her first Olympics in August. For Saina it was her best showing in two years after her win at the Philippines Open in 2006 catapulted her as the next Indian sporting sensation. Saina, however, found the going tough in 2007 and just about managed to hung in at the top level.

The world No. 30 told IANS that she is aiming to carry on her form into the Indonesian Open and Thailand Open and reach Beijing in the best frame of mind.

Saina, who beat some of the top-ranked players en route semifinals in Singapore last week, said she had worked hard on her fitness and game and that has paid her rich dividends.

“My Singapore performance has given a major boost to my confidence and I am now in a position to take on top players,” said Saina who has nurtured the dream of winning an Olympics medal for India since childhood.

Saina, 18, became the first Indian to enter a Super Series semi-final, and with a little luck she would have beaten fifth seeded Mi Zhou of Hong Kong, having won the first game and made it 19-all in the second.

Saina, however, has no regrets as she says she lost to a far more experienced player, ranked world number eight.

“I tried to go for winners. It was quite tough to play against Zhou and I am happy that I could make it that close,” she said.

She rated her performance as her best on the circuit which gave her enormous confidence to forge ahead.

“I was confident I could do well in the tournament because my preparation was very good. But I never expected to reach the semi-finals. I gave my 100 percent. This the best I have ever played,” she said.

Saina said that 2007 was a big learning curve for her as she was under pressure to replicate her Philippines Open performance at every tournament she played as the expectations of fans in India were so high.

“Last year was tough for me. But I had close matches against top-ranked players. Remember, it was just my second year on the circuit,” she said.

“You need a lot of stamina, speed, strength as well as strokes to get to the top in badminton. I had everything but wasn’t able to finish some of the match which I could have won. Now I’ve improved my fitness, my strokes and importantly how to finish,” Saina said over phone just before leaving for Jakarta to play in the Indonesian Open.

Saina now says that she can take on any top-ranked player in the world, having had the experience of playing against tougher opponents early in her career.

“I have played some of these better-rated players last year and I now know how to tackle them. The very fact that I am able to beat these players means I have improved my game and I am better equipped to play under pressure,” Saina said.

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