Vimal Kumar with Saina Nehwal
Vimal Kumar with Saina Nehwal
File picture

New Delhi

Former world No.1 Saina Nehwal is going through the toughest phase of her career and needs to take care of herself so as to avoid any more defeats, says former national champion and coach U. Vimal Kumar.

Saina, currently ranked 20th in the world, was knocked out of the first round of the ongoing second Thailand Open. She had earlier fallen in the second round of the first Thailand Open, which was also her first tournament since the All England Championships in March 2020.

Kumar said that Saina looked out of shape in Thailand. "It is not going to be easy for her to bounce back. I have always said that if she has no pain, she will play well. More than the pain though she didn't look very fit to me. Maybe after the Covid issue and all she is still recovering from it," Kumar told IANS.

A two-time national champion, Kumar felt Saina is going through the toughest phase of her career.

"I think so. Things have not been going well for her for the past couple of years. She needs confidence to get going and the last she had a good result was in 2019 at the Indonesia Masters," said the man who won the national title in 1988 and 1989.

"The workouts, physical training and other things have to be really specific. She has to plan all this a lot better and that is the only way she can come out of this. Losing more matches like this will affect her confidence. It is not only just physical, there is a lot of mental aspects (at play) as well. She is a strong girl but these results can affect her," he said.

Saina had worked with Kumar in her formative years and later between 2014 and 2017 when she became the first Indian badminton player to achieve a No.1 ranking and won silver at the badminton World Championships.

The Hyderabad-based Saina's best finishes in 2020 came when she reached the quarter-finals in the Malaysia Masters in January and the Barcelona Masters in February. The last time she won a title was the 2019 Indonesia Masters held in January.

Saina is currently 15th in the rankings for the Tokyo Olympics. With Sindhu already ranked seventh, Saina needs to break into the top eight to qualify for the Games. The tournaments in Thailand are not part of the Olympic qualifying period, which is scheduled to start with the Swiss Open on March 2.

"The next one or one-and-a-half months will determine her chances. The next five-six weeks will be key and give us an idea," said Kumar.

Kumar, however, also said that the fact remains that while Saina and most of the Indian players are playing their first tournaments since March, when the national lockdown began, many of their opponents have had prior match practice with domestic championships being held in many countries.

"They are all awfully short of match practice. All of them are playing after more than 10 months which is not good. [PV] Sindhu also needs more matches; it's the only way she can get back. We have to see how things go in March when things open up," said Kumar.

Thailand Open Badminton: Indian doubles dream run ends

With singles making a pre matured exits, the fate of the doubles pair which was stretched into the semifinal failed to extend, as both the mixed and the men's doubles were out of the Toyota Thailand Open here on Saturday.

The mixed doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa produced a spirited performance before going down narrowly to top seeds Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai 22-20 18-21 21-12.

Up against the world number three Thai pair, Satwik and Ashwini, who are ranked 36th, showed great skills and temperament as they scripted an extraordinary fightback after losing the opening game by a whisker.

Satwik and Ashwini, who spent most of the last year away from the court in two different cities and could only practice together for a few weeks, on Friday became the first Indian mixed doubles pair to reach the semifinals of a BWF World Tour Super 1000 event.

Earlier, the impressive run of Satwik and Chirag Shetty also came to an end after a close semifinal defeat in men's doubles.

The Indian pair, ranked 10th in the world, lost 18-21 18-21 to world number nine Malaysian combination of Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in a 35-minute match.

Tokyo Olympics medal contender, Satwik and Chirag, had won their maiden super 500 title in Thailand and entered the finals of French open super 750 event in 2019. The duo had participated in Super 1000 events in 2018 ad 2019 but this is the first time it entered the semifinals.

In mixed doubles, Satwik and Ashwini had played twice against the Thailand pair but could never take a game away. The duo showed great resilience on Saturday to catch up with their fancied rivals throughout the match before succumbing to a few unforced errors in the decider.

The two pairs played some fabulous rallies and there was hardly anything to separate them. The Thai players were up 11-10 at the break and jumped to a 17-12 lead at one stage but Satwik and Ashwini showed great determination to draw parity at 20-20. But still, Dechapol and Sapsiree managed to pocket the first game.

In the second game, Dechapol and Sapsiree again opened up a 11-6 lead but the Indian pair won 8 of the next 9 points to make it 15-15 and then went into the lead with Satwik unleashing a powerful smash.

The duo kept moving together till 18-18. But Dechapol found the net and then Satwik produced another trademark smash as the Indian duo roared back into the contest.

In the decider, the Thai pair were up 3-0 and extended it to 10-7. The experienced pair continued their good run and managed to create a gap of 15-11 after Ashwini found the net.

The Thai pair then stepped up the pressure as Satwik found the net thrice, which created a decisive gap. Soon they led 18-11 and held match points when the Indians erred at the net again. Dechapol sealed it with a smash.

In the men's doubles match, Satwik and Chirag couldn't bring their best to the fore as the Malaysian were more alert on court and also managed to diffuse any attack from the Indian pair to emerge victories.

The Indian duo had a 4-2 lead early on but the Malaysians managed to claw back and eke out a slender 11-10 lead at the break. Satwik and Chirag stayed close till 15-16 when their rivals reeled off four points on the trot to eventually close out the opening game.

In the second game, the Indian duo was up 3-1 but again the Malaysians produced four straight points to move to 7-3. A precise serve and then their rivals finding the net helped Satwik and Chirag to narrow the gap before drawing parity at 8-8.

However, two smashes at the backcourt gave Aaron and Soh a three-point advantage at the interval.

India couldn't breach the gap and with Chirag hitting long, the Malaysians grabbed six match points.

The Indian pair managed to save four match points before Chirag once again found the net as the Malaysians began celebrating.

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