Saina retires injured, but India overcome Spain 3-2
- After Saina conceded her match, Malvika Bansod and Aditi Bhatt along with the doubles pair of Tanisha Crasto and Rutaparna Panda won their contests in straight games to give India a winning start in Group B at the Ceres Arena.
India managed to overcome Spain 3-2 in their opening Uber Cup fixture despite team spearhead Saina Nehwal retiring midway through her match after losing a closely fought first game in Aarhus, Denmark, on Sunday.
Returning to the circuit for the first time since March, Saina looked rusty with restricted movement but showed glimpses of her past peak. The former world No.1 was trailing 12-16, fought back to lead 19-16 and had a game point too at 20-19 when her opponent, world No.58 Clara Azurmendi capitalised on Saina’s errors to win the first game 22-20. In less than two minutes, Saina spoke to the umpire and retired, handing a crucial 1-0 lead to Spain.
“There was a certain catch in my groin. I was surprised at how it happened. I was trying to get back my rhythm but I couldn’t and had to give it up because it was hurting when I was taking long lunges,” Saina was quoted as saying by Olympics.com.
Saina’s presence for India is crucial in the Women’s World Team Championships, especially in the absence of PV Sindhu, who is on a break after her bronze-medal winning performance at the Tokyo Olympics.
“Let us see the next 3-4 days, how it is. There are two more matches, so I just want to see how it goes. I don’t want to take any sudden decision at the moment because my body feels good but this groin issue has to go,” added the London Olympics bronze medallist, who is currently ranked No.19 in the world.
Thankfully for India Malvika Bansod and Aditi Bhatt along with the doubles combine of Tanisha Crasto and Rutaparna Panda won their contests in straight games to give India a winning start in Group B at the Ceres Arena.
World No.104 Bansod earned parity for India after beating a higher ranked Beatriz Corrales 21-13, 21-15 in 35 minutes before Crasto and Panda got the 2-1 lead after breezing past Paula Lopez and Lorena Usle 21-10, 21-8 in less than half an hour. Bhatt finished off the tie by defeating Ania Setien 21-16, 21-14 in 34 minutes to give India an unassailable lead of 3-1.
Spain, who are without the injured three-time world champion Carolina Marin, pulled back a point when singles players Azurmendi and Corrales joined hands to beat experienced pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy 21-18, 14-21, 21-17 in 57 minutes.
India will play their second group tie against Scotland on Tuesday. The top-2 teams out of the four-member group will qualify for the quarter-finals. India have medalled twice at the Uber Cup, winning bronze in 2014 and 2016.
Saina dismisses retirement talks
With only four wins in 10 matches—with three first round exits—this year, Saina hasn’t been in the best of forms of late, also not making the cut for the Tokyo Olympics. The two-time World Championship medallist, however, dismissed any talk of retirement despite not winning any tournament since the Indonesia Masters in January 2019.
“When I am earning so much with the game why should I just give it up like that? What will I do after retiring? One will have a family, kids but why can’t you have it at 36-37? Why not continue the sport which I like and when I am getting so much fame, money with it. Without it I’d be just sitting at home, watching TV or some serial. This is what I enjoy. Till the time I can do it, I should try,” Saina told Badminton Europe on Saturday.
The 31-year-old cited the example of Roger Federer who is still playing the game despite being 40 and having achieved all there is to. “Till I am happy with the sport I will continue. When I feel it is enough, my body is not helping me, I am not able to control the injuries then it is time. But at the moment I am enjoying the trips, I’m enjoying coming out to see matches. If I win something now it will be great for me.”
Ranked in the top-10 for most of the last decade, Saina dropped out in December 2019, not regaining the position ever since. But the former All England finalist insists that she is feeling good and trains much better than she used to at a younger age. “The way I am training, the way I am looking after myself… I feel much better, my body feels very good. It’s the way you train that’s important. At 23 the training I was doing was not so good. I used to get up with back pains, had a lot of leg irritations. (Now) I can just get up, go on the court and play. The feeling is so good at the moment and that’s what is important for players.”
Asked she’d continue till the next Olympics, Saina said she is yet to overcome her disappointment of not qualifying for Tokyo after seven tournaments got cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic but didn’t rule out going for Paris 2024. “I just needed one quarter-final (finish to qualify). I don’t know what will happen in 2024 but I can definitely say I feel good and I would like to try for it and why not? If everything falls in place I am sure I can do that,” she concluded.