Talk about peaking at the right time. Saina Nehwal won her second title in as many weeks to send a strong message to the Chinese camp. She beat the reigning Asian and All-England champion Li Xuerui 13-21, 22-20, 21-19 to win the Indonesia Open Super Series Premier tournament, her third in four years.
Saina had her share of anxious moments, when she was a game down and was staring at her opponent’s championship point in the second game. The world No. 5 rallied from there to win the second and the deciding game to pocket her first Super Series and third overall title of the year.
“I don’t know, maybe this place is lucky for me,” Saina told HT on Sunday, when asked what it was about Jakarta that brought the best out of her.
The tournament tested Saina, mentally and physically, and she was the first to admit it. "It's not just the final, the entire tournament was very tough, all the matches were long," she said, adding that the quarterfinal against Shixian Wang of China was particularly demanding.
The nation is now focused on it, but Saina refuses to speak about the Olympics. She does not play a tournament till then and has a month-long special training to go through. Ask her about what these two victories (last week's Thailand Open) mean to her before the Olympics, she brushes it off with a, “let me enjoy this moment”.
The 22-year-old Indian got off to a disastrous start as Xuerui caught her early with parallel shots and cross-court smashes in the first game. In the second game, a wiser Saina displayed superior net play and twice grabbed a sizable lead, but on both occasions Xuerui rallied back to level the scores.
From a comfortable 18-14, Saina lost six points in a row and was soon on the brink of losing the final.
"When I was down 20-19, I was not thinking about the championship point. I was thinking about the next point,” she said. Saina won the next two points - much to the relief of national coach Pullela Gopi Chand and foreign coach Edwin Iriawan, who were seated by the court.
Saina was in full control in the decider, and though the world No. 3 came close in the end, it was the Indian who prevailed.
Gopi Chand could not praise his star pupil enough and felt her "I can fight and fight back" attitude was the reason for this title. "It was a see-saw battle throughout the tournament. The crowd, the atmosphere, the draft, the fast shuttles...everything was in her favour," he said, adding that Iriawan was thrilled that Saina had won in his country.
“The fighting attitude and having this at the back of her mind that ‘I have done it in the past’ was crucial. All her matches were close affairs which tested her and she has proved herself. She was able to push herself physically and emerge winner in the end,” he said, referring to the fact that five out of her last six matches stretched to three games.