On a frosty day in Birmingham, India’s Saina Nehwal’s hopes of repeating her coach’s (P. Gopichand) heroics at the All England Championships came to naught.
Up against Pi Hongyan of France, the fourth seed of the tournament, the Indian failed to counter the guile of her experienced opponent and succumbed 15-21, 16-21.
The match started off with Saina on the offensive and jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead, however Pi was able to bounce back and due to a few unforced errors by the Indian she was soon leading 10-6. That seemed to spur on Saina who then reeled off six straight points to gain a 12-10 lead. However that was to be the last bit of a surge, as she seemed to lose her nerve and the mistakes began to creep in. Losing five straight points didn’t help as the first game slipped away from the Hyderabad girl 15-21.
The second game was again a back and forth affair. However, just when Saina had a glimmer of hope at 13-12 and 14-13 she made unforced errors on both points and wasn’t able to capitalize. Pi being the more experienced player seized the opportunity and took charge. Saina lost the second game 16-21.
Pi was definitely a tough match up for Saina whose strengths are her touch and reactive qualities. However, Pi also has great touch and was able to easily handle Saina's drop shots while creating more angles on her own placements.
For Saina, it was a tough opening match coming off a four-week lay off and it was apparent she lacked a bit of the match practice. “I felt good going in. However, I think that I made too many mistakes and I cannot do that against a player of this level,” she said.
“I am upset to have made that many mistakes, however I am looking forward to next week and feel like I am in good enough shape to do well.”
Indian results (first round)
Women’s singles: 4-Pi Hongyan (FRA) bt Saina Nehwal 21-15, 21-16; Women's doubles: Chiou Haw/Pek Lim (MAL) bt Jwala Gutta/Shruti Kurien 21-9, 19-21, 21-18; Men's singles: 5-Sony Dwi Kuncoro (INA) bt Anand Pawar 22-20, 21-15.
(The writer is administrator, Mittal Champions Trust that supports Saina’s training)