The struggle of Indian women shuttlers in the BWF circuit is quite apparent but Saina Nehwal has backed her colleagues by saying that even the strong Chinese players are finding it difficult to dish out strong performances on a consistent basis and hoped that the lean patch of the singles players will end soon. In contrasting performances in the last one year, India’s male players have transformed into a world-conquering unit while the women shuttlers are struggling to go deep into the draws. In 15 tournaments that PV Sindhu has competed in this year, she could not go beyond the second rounds in 10 events. Seven of them were first-round exits.
Finishing runner-up at the Madrid Masters in March and reaching the semifinals at the Canada Open in July have been the best results for the country’s top shuttler in 2023.
“Every year is not the same. Sometimes there are ups and downs. If you look at the Chinese women players, their performance in recent times has also not been very good. They too are not able to perform the way the Korean players or Tai-Tzu Ying and other players are performing,” Saina told PTI-Bhasha in an interview.
A look at the records of top Chinese players shows that world No.3 Chinese Chen Yu Fei could reach the title round only twice in 11 tournaments and bagged one title in 2023 while world No.5 He Bing Jiao played 13 events and finished runner-up on two occasions.
India’s Ashmita Chaliha has played eight tournaments and suffered either first or second-round exits. She won the low-tier Maldives International.
In 15 tournaments, Aakarshi Kashyap made 11 first-round exits.
“There is a slight drop in performance among the women players but I am sure, in the future, we will achieve good results,” hoped Saina.
In contrast, the men’s players won a historic title at the Thomas Cup last year and the men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty became the first Indian pair to reach No.1 in world rankings after winning the country’s first gold medal in the recently concluded Asian Games.
The pair also became the first Indians to win a BWF Super 1000 tournament. HS Prannoy won a bronze medal in the men’s singles in the Asian Games. Apart from this, many players won individual titles.
The Indian women’s team lost in the quarter-finals in the Asian Games while there was no medal in the individual category either.
Saina acknowledged the good run by the male shuttlers.
“The results have been good, badminton has progressed a lot in the last 10 years. There is confidence among the people, there is confidence among the players that we can achieve good results at the top level.
“Now, we have even won gold medals in Thomas Cup and the Asian Games. Badminton is progressing very fast. Our current players are playing very well and many budding players are also coming through, which, I am sure, makes the future of badminton very good.” Saina, who has been troubled by a knee issue, herself has not been able to go beyond the second round in any tournament this year. She has not played in any tournament since June but asserted that she does not have retirement on her mind.
“I have not thought about retirement yet. There is a little problem with the knee, my focus is on that. If this gets fixed, I will be able to put more effort into my game. I have been playing badminton for many years.
“I like this game very much. Let’s see how many more years I can play,” said Saina who has slipped to 55th place in the world rankings.
The qualification period for the Paris Olympics is underway with about seven months left. It seems Saina probably does not have Olympic qualification in her mind.
“When you have been playing for so many years, you start loving the game. My goal is not just to play in the Olympics. Right now, my only aim is to train well and play in some good tournaments.
“I have played in the Olympics many times before, so right now my focus is on recovering completely and playing in the tournament. Once my knee injury heals completely, I will be able to start proper training, this is my goal right now.” Saina spoke highly of the initiative taken by former players Vijay Lancy and Anup Sridhar, who have opened 15 training centres — Badminton Pros — for budding players.
Saina, her husband Parupalli Kashyap, and RMV Gurusaidutt have been roped in as mentors.
“My job as a mentor is to give advice to the players. I give them advice based on my career experience and how I became a champion,” she said adding that she is not looking at full-time coaching.
“If playing is 100% contribution then coaching is 200% effort. I haven’t thought much about it yet. I would like to work as a mentor with players because badminton has given me a lot and I would like to contribute in making this game more popular.”
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