Saina Nehwal has realised that world’s top players are supremely fit and she too has shifted her focus on attaining high level of fitness to remain a potent challenger on the circuit. Nehwal says she won’t be bothered if she does not win many Super Series titles next season.
“I am not challenging myself to win the Super Series because I have won a lot in the past, so I am not worried about that. But I have to get fitness at the right time, when I want to,” Saina told reporters on the sidelines of the inauguration of PBL.
“I don’t believe in tournaments anymore, so no tournament, no titles, just fitness will be my priority next year,” said Nehwal, who had suffered a career-threatening knee injury a few days ahead of the Rio Olympics.
She clinched the Malaysia Masters in January, before winning a bronze at the World Championship and Senior Nationals this season.
In a free-wheeling interaction, Nehwal said: “After a series of first round and second round exits in the first half of the season, I didn’t expect to win a bronze at World Championship beating these top players. But I have to get my fitness higher to play five back-to-back matches in any tournament.
“The reason I lost to Chen Yufei (at Hong Kong) was fitness. I lost to Akane (Yamaguchi). I think I have played Akane most this year, I also lost to Sun Yu. They were little bit more fitter than me.
“Everyone is retrieving these days even if you smash hard, they still retrieve, so at the moment fitness is playing a big role in women’s singles,” she added.
Saina also clinched the Senior Nationals at Nagpur after beating PV Sindhu in the finals last November.
“I beat Sindhu on that day, I was good. I was moving well but I know I was tired, my stamina was finished in the second game. If the match would have gone to the third game, I don’t think I would have lasted. I know Sindhu is much fitter than me right now,” she said.
“I won but I could see my fitness was a big problem. So I can improve only when I have more time. Otherwise, I did beat Carolina Marin, Sung Ji Hyun in the first round but beating someone in the third round is a big issue at the moment.”
“In any sport now, it is all about fitness, it is not about experience and I have this belief if I’m fit then I can beat anyone,” added Nehwal, who would take on Sindhu in the opening match of the PBL on December 23.
Nehwal said she focused on her knee and ignored other parts of her leg during rehabilitation post injury and it affected her fitness.
“My knee was becoming all right and I was recovering from tendinitis but my movements were getting harder. I had to make it more stronger by playing more matches but I didn’t focus on my ankle and shin and so it was affected,” she said.
“If I would have been fitter in the last four months then I would have had more titles. It was challenging and I accepted it and didn’t give up. I am thankful to my parents and Heath Mathews for guiding me.”
Talking about Sindhu’s meteoric rise, Nehwal said: “I think the time she had before Olympics that is giving her confidence to play such tough matches back-to-back. She was not moving well in China Open but she was again doing well in Hong Kong and Dubai Super Series.”
Sindhu clinched two super series titles at India Open and Korea Open, besides losing three finals at World Championship, Hong Kong Open and Dubai Super Series Final.
Asked about the final losses that Sindhu suffered this season, Nehwal said: “It is little bit of luck, because both were the same till 19-19. So don’t know what to say. It is tough. Look at Okuhara and Akane, how these short girls were rushing across the court and picking up strokes.”
“At such intensity rallies with 50-60 strokes, I salute them. The way they were fighting back in both the matches. I couldn’t believe these girls would have such reach.”
Nehwal said India will have the biggest medal haul from the Commonwealth Games.
“We will definitely come out with many medals this time. It is quite sure that most of us will play in the medal round but we also have to do well in Asian Games and World Championship,” she said.
Nehwal returned to the Gopichand Academy after the Glasgow World Championship following a three-year stint under Vimal Kumar at Bangalore.
Asked if it was awkward to return to her mentor, Nehwal said, “When I came back, I just told him that I want to play again and he was like I know that, so there was no discussion about past. He is the same as he was before, we don’t have any issue with all that happened last three years.”
Asked about the resurgence of Chinese shuttlers in women’s singles, Nehwal said: “Chen Yufei is new, she has the capability to beat some big players but she is still not consistent. But China, they are still challenging but I wouldn’t compare the current lot with Li Xuerui, Wang Yihan or Wang Shixian.”