Playing in China against a local opponent can trigger a nervous breakdown for someone not used to a hostile crowd. But then Saina Nehwal has proved time and again that pressure spurs her on.
On Friday, the 18-year-old not only battled the situation with grit but also overpowered world champion and third seed Zhu Lin 21-16, 21-23, 21-18 in just under an hour to reach the semifinals of the China Masters Super Series in Changzhou.
The seventh seed, who won the Chinese Taipei Grand Prix gold tournament a fortnight ago, will now take on Hong Kong's Zhou Mi in the last four stage. The sixth seed had earlier upset top seed Lu Lan 10-21, 21-13, 21-14 in the other quarterfinal.
"I was aware that she was fresh. But after initial exchanges, I began catching her deep on her backhand and that gave me the advantage in the first game," Saina told HT over the phone.
"The bigger challenge was to get distracted with the 4,000 odd crowd supporting her and barring one occasion I guess I handled it well," said the Hyderabadi, who is without a travelling coach for this tournament.
Former national champion Manjusha Kanwar had been travelling with her till the Japan Open. National coach Pullela Gopichand was supposed join his trainee in China but problems relating to his academy forced a change of plan. "I am missing him here as arranging everything from training sessions to planning for the match gets difficult sometimes," she added.
Despite the setback, Saina could have wrapped up the tie in two games but slight distraction on the first match point meant the game went into the decider. "At 19-19 in the second game, the linesman ruled Zhu Lin's smash out. The way the crowd reacted to that call made me realise what it means to play against a Chinese in China. For a moment I lost my concentration and that cost me that game," she said.
But Saina did not allow it to play on her mind and adopted a simple wait and watch policy to counter the attacking style of Zhu to wrap up the decider and set a semifinal date with Zhou, whom she lost in the first round of the Japan Open last week and the semifinals of the Singapore Super Series in May.Gopichand did not read too much into the two defeats and felt Saina had a 50-50 chance of making it to the final. "I am not bothered by the Japan Open loss since Saina had given her all to win the Chinese Taipei Open and was not at her best in the first round. "She came very close to beating Zhou in Singapore," he added.
He admitted Zhou had some strokes that could trouble Saina but added that at this stage a player had to overcome such disadvantages with proper planning.
Saina too was not bothered about her head-to-head record against the Athens Olympics bronze medallist.
"I am going to play to win and not bother about anything else."