MUMBAI, June 20 (PTI): Saina Nehwal has become a strong medal prospect at the upcoming London Olympics after her dominating performanmce over the formidable Chinese player at the Indonesian Open, asserts nine-time national badminton champion and two-time Olympian Aparna Popat.
“There was a lot of pressure on her as everybody was talking about matching up to the Chinese and so on and so forth. Beating two Chinese in the Indonesian Open which is such a strong field and winning the title will give her a lot of confidence for the Games,” Aparna told PTI here.
The 34-year-old former shuttler, now an Administrative Manager in the Indian Oil Corporation, had reached the pre-quarter-finals of women’s singles in the 2004 Athens Olympics that was bettered by Saina four years later at the Beijing Games when she made the last eight.
Asked whether she expects Saina to climb the medal rostrum in the July 27-August 12 London Games, Aparna said “certainly”.
“Certainly. Can’t say which medal, but I am sure she will come back with a medal,” said the Mumbai-based ex-player whose continuous reign at the top in the nationals was halted by the Hyderabad-based Saina in 2006.
About the Chinese threat, Aparna said that while Saina had been beating them regularly in 2010, in 2011 injuries affected her game.
“In 2010 she was beating the Chinese. In 2011, unfortunately she was losing, but losing very close matches. And we all know she was plagued by injuries.
“When you play a Chinese, you have to be at the top of your game. You have to be very close to 100 per cent fitness-wise, otherwise it’s going to be very difficult. When she is fully fit and has had her preparation time, the results have gone in her favour,” said Aparna. Saina beat Chinese world No. 4 Shixian Wang and her compatriot and world number three Xuerui Li en route to her third Indonesia Open title in the last four years at Jakarta.
Aparna agreed with Saina’s own view that the Hyderabadi has improved her defence.
“She has said she has improved her defence as she has been sticking in her points. Even when strokes are not going in her favour she has managed to keep the shuttle in play. You can say she has worked on her defence,” Aparna observed.
Aparna felt the five-week preparation, Saina is planning now for London, is going to be a crucial factor.
“This preparation will be the key. This is the last bit of fine tuning that she can do. Having this preparation is very important. She should remain mentally fresh and injury free,” said Aparna, who bagged a singles silver medal in the 1998 Commonwealth Games at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“We will have a special programme for the Olympics. It’ll be a tough 4-5 weeks for me. So, it is important to be in good shape and injury free before the Olympics because the courts there will be slow,” Saina told reporters in Hyderabad yesterday on her return home.
Endorsing Saina’s views about the expected playing conditions in London, Aparna said during the Olympics there would be longer rallies for points as the shuttle speed would be slower than was the case in Indonesia.