They seem to like winning together. After triumphing at the China Open Premier last year, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth came, played and conquered on home soil on Sunday evening. It seemed nothing could stop them in front of a full house at the Siri Fort Stadium. Fitter, confident and literally on top of the world, Saina first smashed her way to glory — winning her first Super Series title in the country.
Srikanth, determined not to be left out of the celebrations, came back in the decider to pick up the winner’s trophy at the Yonex Sunrise India Open.
Having come close on previous occasions, Saina didn’t leave anything to chance. She lifted, smashed and outplayed former world champion, Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, 21-16, 21-14 as the crowd chanted her name. “It was good that Saina won before my match. It gave me confidence,” said Srikanth after defeating sixth seed Viktor Axelsen 18-21, 21-13, 21-12.
“This tournament has thrown up so many surprises,” exclaimed an elated Saina after 49 minutes of tussle on court. Along with her maiden win here, she has assured herself of the world No 1 spot when the rankings are released on Thursday.
Fans had lined up from the morning, waiting in anticipation to see the London Olympic bronze medallist live. Though Saina had a 5-3 head-to-head lead over the 20-year-old Ratchanok, it didn’t mean the Indian could take it easy.
The atmosphere at the stadium was a throwback to the Commonwealth Games. In 2010, in front of a boisterous crowd, Saina had won the gold on the same court. Five years later, as Ratchanok erred on match point, Saina celebrated once more as the crowd cheered on. “The burden of not winning at home is finally off my shoulders,” laughed the 25-year-old.
Since the win in China, the current world No 2 has made three back-to-back finals, winning two. “No doubt, this is the best phase of my life,” added Saina, whose consistency in recent tournaments has paid high dividends.
Hungry for more
Saina has an Olympic medal, nine Super Series and now the world No 1 spot. So what now? “I need more titles, the more I win, the hungrier I get.” When the rankings are released, Srikanth too is expected to rise. Though the world No 4 is not too worried about rankings, the top spot is always the goal for any shuttler.
“Right now I’m concentrating on my game. I don’t think of winning every time and that’s why I don’t feel fear.” It’s never easy beating an opponent twice in a row but that’s what Srikanth did. The final was a rematch of the Swiss Open GP Gold summit clash. As Axelsen made an unforced error, the youngster from Guntur pocketed his second Super Series.
So how does one celebrate such an achievement? A party or an ice cream, maybe? “I have a flight to catch to Malaysia,” laughed Saina. Srikanth seemed taken aback when asked about his celebratory plans. The 22-year-old has already turned his attention to the Malaysia Open Super Series Premier next week. After that, they head to Singapore. Celebrations can wait.