By T S Sudhir
(video of my story aired on NDTV24x7)
Saina Nehwal’s adoring fans will hope she will not be in India to receive the Rajiv Khel Ratna award to be given away by President Pratibha Patil on the evening of Sunday, the 29th of August. That’s because they would rather see the world number 2 in action in Paris playing the finals of the world championship in the French capital the same day. And they will hope it will be an evening in Paris to celebrate, cherish and remember !
20-year-old Saina, quite possibly, wouldn’t have seen `An evening in Paris’, the 1967 Shammi Kapoor-Sharmila Tagore starrer. But a DVD of `3 Idiots’ will be part of her hand baggage to take away some of the stress built up by the expections of India’s badminton lovers. This Aamir-SRK fan who leads the Indian team, has a first round bye but faces a tough draw thereafter.
The same month last year, all of India had expected to cheer Saina to a title win at the world championship in hometown Hyderabad. But a bout of chicken pox ruined her preparation for the big-ticket tournament, though she still managed to reach the quarters. This time, Saina has improved in ranking, fitness and preparation.
“All over, this year, I have improved quite a lot over last year and I am in much better shape. I am moving quite good on court,” she says.
Yes, her defence and side play remain areas of concern where her coaches have focussed on. Those are also areas where the Chinese will mark her out.
“They really will try and find out which is the area where I can be beaten. They are doing all those things. During the tournament also, they will take videos of my matches, ” she says and with a chuckle, adds, “But then, I am also going to do the same with them.”
Coach Bhaskar Babu, who was by Saina’s side during her victories in the three tournaments in Chennai, Singapore and Jakarta in June, however strikes a word of caution.
“If she gets to the quarters, we can hope for the title. But the concern is exactly when she will hit peak form.”
Bhaskar says Saina could train only for five weeks before the championship while she needs atleast 7-8 weeks to peak. “If we are lucky, Saina may reach peak form during the championship.”
The fast courts at Paris would test the fitness of every player. Saina is confident she won’t run out of breath. She has played on these courts before and has done well too. Either way, we will be watching you play with bated breath, Saina.