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Saina from Saniatown

SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD SHUTTLER Saina Nehwal has become the first Indian woman to win a major international badminton tournament. She beat sixth seed Julia Wong of Malaysia in the final of the four-star Philippines Open in Pasig City in Manila on Sunday.

india Updated: May 29, 2006 00:56 IST

SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD SHUTTLER Saina Nehwal has become the first Indian woman to win a major international badminton tournament. She beat sixth seed Julia Wong of Malaysia in the final of the four-star Philippines Open in Pasig City in Manila on Sunday.

The unseeded Nehwal carried guts along with her racquet into the final - her second international one - to beat Wong 21-15, 22-20. "I had beaten Wong before, so I was confident. I just concentrated on playing my own game without bothering about the result," Nehwal said when contacted in Manila.

The Hyderabadi teenager - one reason she is called the Sania Mirza of badminton - had been a giant-killer throughout the tournament, the biggest casualty being top-seed Xu Huwaien of Germany in the quarterfinals.

With the win over Xu, the prodigy suddenly became the favourite. But the pressure did not get to Nehwal, said Pullela Gopichand, her coach and former All England badminton champion. "It is very difficult to stay focused when you are 16. The pressure can crack you. But Saina withstood it and pulled it off," he said.

Nehwal said it was the quarterfinal victory that gave her the shot of confidence. "From then on, I only had to keep my focus. I'm happy I managed to do that," she said.

Going into the four-event Asian circuit, which also includes the Indonesian, Singapore and Malaysian opens,the 86th ranked Nehwal's game plan was to enter the top 50. With the Sunday win, her ranking can go up by at least 10 places and touch the 70s. Her next stop is the six-star, $250,000 Indonesian Open in Surabaya.

Nehwal's dream run began this year at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne where she was part of India's bronze-winning team.