Playing someone for the first time can be difficult. Especially in front of a home crowd and where your previous performances haven't really been heart-warming. "No no, it's nothing like that," said Saina Nehwal with a laugh.
The world No 8, who has never before made the quarters of three previous editions of Yonex Sunrise India Open, on Thursday finally broke the jinx. The 24-year-old took just 35 minutes to thrash Natcha Saengchote 21-15, 21-12 in the second round.
It may have taken her a bit of time in the first game to understand Natcha's game but once Saina did, there was no looking back. With full confidence, the only Indian woman left in the draw smashed her way past the helpless Thai who kept making unforced errors.
While 2013 hadn't really gone Saina's way, this season has prepped up the former world No 2's confidence. She started with a huge win over compatriot PV Sindhu in the Syed Modi India Grand Prix final which fetched a title after 15 months. She followed up with quarterfinal appearances in the All England and Swiss Open. "I've been training hard, just waiting for the win. It's not easy. Currently at eight, the aim right now is to get back to the top-5. I do feel I can achieve it," said Saina, sounding quietly confident.
She runs into a rather tough opponent next: China's Wang Yihan, the current world No 2. Saina's only victory against Yihan came at the 2012 Denmark Open Super Series semifinal where a knee injury halted the Chinese star. In fact, statistically, that was the last Super Series Saina pocketed.
The Saina-Yihan rivalry goes back to the 2006 world junior championship final in South Korea where the Indian lost a hard-fought battle. Friday will showcase their 10th meeting with a daunting 8-1 head-to-head record in favour of the Chinese. So, is she ready? "I have to be more confident," said Saina. "I hope my movements and strokes go well. She's going to be aggressive so I really have to be ready."
Parupalli Kashyap secured a quarterfinals berth with a well-fought win over compatriot and practice partner RMV Gurusaidutt. Kashyap triumphed 21-15, 16-21, 21-11 in just under an hour. "I had lost to Guru in 2012 in China. Since then, I haven't lost to him even in practice," said a happy Kashyap. He now takes on world No 1 Lee Chong Wei, who beat Sourabh Varma 21-9, 21-6, for a last-four spot.
Nothing final yet
While there had been rumours of the India Open and Indian Badminton League being shifted out of the city thanks to the Delhi Police and DDA authorities' attitude leaving the badminton organisers frustrated, no concrete plans have yet materialised for the proposal.