London: From now on, Project Saina against China will take a new dimension. After being a thorn in the flesh for Chinese domination in badminton, India’s first-ever Olympic medallist Saina Nehwal knows what it will take to raise her game a few notches and make things even more difficult for the sports superpower.
“It will always be Saina versus China for me,” Nehwal told media after she was awarded the bronze medal in the women’s singles at a packed Wembley Arena here on Saturday.
I am so close and I can see the change happening. Now I have to remain fit to play against the Chinese. I have to be ready and physically keen to take the game into their court.”
“In more recent times, it has always been this way. There has been no one really challenging the Chinese in badminton. And suddenly they realised there is Saina and I know, I can feel it, Chinese players get scared of me on court,” she said.
“That’s a good thing to happen as I know I am confident I can win against any of them. In recent times I have defeated five or six of the Chinese and with every win there is a lot of confidence,” she added.
After losing the first game 18-21 and trailing 0-1 in the second, Nehwal had her opponent, world No 2 Xin Wang, retiring after landing heavily on her left leg — injuring her knee in the bargain towards the end of the first game. “But through the game I saw she was trying to fight for time to ease a bit. She was asking for water break and asking for the court to be mopped. I could see it coming. She was clearly uncomfortable in the way I was holding out to her despite trailing her most of the time,” Nehwal recounted.
“I am happy I am the one who is doing this [ending the Chinese dominance]. In my match against Yihan Wang [world No 1 in the semi-finals] I should have played more rallies, but I ended up playing to her game. I know I am close enough now. All I need to do is continue without any rest,” Nehwal added.
“I am so close and I can see the change happening. Now I have to remain fit to play against the Chinese. I have to be ready and physically keen to take the game into their court. I have to be prepared for the long rallies and matches,” Nehwal insisted.
Off the court, the Indian sweetheart was relishing the welcome she is bound to get once she returns home. “Of course I will give myself a few days off to take in the celebrations. I am a bit disappointed and sad I could not contest for the gold, but ultimately an Olympic medal is a medal and any colour will do,” she smiled.
“Badminton will change in India with this,” she predicted. “There are a lot of youngsters in the boys’ section as well. I want more girls to come, just like it happens in China and Korea and then India too will be a force to reckon with.”