All eyes were on Saina Nehwal as she walked on to the court. Greeted by cheers, the defending champion gave the handful of fans what they’d come for — an easy victory to move up to the second round of the Yonex Sunrise India Open on Wednesday afternoon.
Playing sporadically the last six months due to an Achilles tendon injury, the current world No 6 brushed aside compatriot Tanvi Lad 21-7, 21-13 in just over half an hour at the Siri Fort Stadium.
“Physical recovery is one thing but to get that tip-toe feeling out of your system takes time. I was tentative in the Swiss Open (where she made the semis). At the All England I improved (losing to Tzu Ying Tai in the quarters) and here, on the first day, I’m feeling good,” said the 26-year-old after setting up a second-round date with Thai Nitchaon Jindapol.
The London Games bronze medallist is not that worried about the Rio Olympics which has most shuttlers in frenzy in a race to garner points before the May 1 deadline. She had said earlier in the year that if she “can do something better than that (bronze) this time (at Rio) then it will be a great thing”.
But, of course, August is on everyone’s mind.
“Li (Xuerui, the 2012 gold medallist), Wang (Shixian) and (Ji-Hyun) Sung are all playing here. We are all keeping an eye on each other. It is after all the Olympic year even though I am fortunate enough to have a medal,” Saina adds.
It was winning this very Super Series event last year that resulted in the Indian overtaking Carolina Marin as the world No 1 in the BWF rankings. Is there any pressure on her? “I hope to repeat the feat here,” is how she put it simply.
Men’s defending champion, world No 10 Kidambi Srikanth, lost to Tian Houwei in the first round. The world No 7 Chinese won 21-13, 17-21, 24-22.