Saina Nehwal’s challenge is more mental now, says coach Vimal Kumar

May 6, 2017

Saina Nehwal’s challenge is more mental now


It has been a long road back for Saina Nehwal. The former world No. 1 has struggled for form and fitness since busting her knee at the Rio Olympics. Now fully recovered and pain-free — save for the occasional stiffness — Nehwal’s challenge is more mental than physical, according to coach Vimal Kumar.

“The main problem is when she lunges at the net. The fear factor is still there,” said Kumar at the Badminton Authority of India enclave. “When you start lunging and taking the shuttle early at the net, your game will become more effective. She is still a little scared at the net and that’s where she is faltering. Otherwise she has fully recovered and is pain-free.”

At 27, Saina is the oldest of the top 20. The world No. 9 has been training to be faster and trimmer since her comeback, but results have been hard to come by. She has failed to reach a final since the Malaysia Masters GP win in January. Last month, she suffered opening round exits at the Malaysia Open Superseries and the Asia Championships in China after taking the first game. Vimal says, ‘it’s all in the mind.’ “She is losing out some very tight matches. Tactically, she needs to be better towards the closing stages. She’s competing against top players whom she’s beaten before. It’s all about converting some of the close matches.”

Before Indonesia and China, Saina lost the India Open quarterfinal to compatriot and Rio Olympics silver medallist PV Sindhu. Vimal, however, doesn’t want to read too much into the supposed status quo shift. “At the highest level, they will keep beating each other. Sindhu is 21, she is playing well and is a top player. Earlier it was only Saina. Now that another player has come up she has to keep competing,” said Vimal. “It is like Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. You cannot avoid a rivalry between a nation’s two top players. In a country without many sporting rivalries, this is good.”

While the race is tightening at home, Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu-Ying has pulled away from the pack overall. The world No. 1 has won four tournaments this year and according to Vimal, her consistency is a result of the surprise factor. “She is dominating the game, and all others are losing to her. It’s because of the deceptive strokes. You need to have a surprise element,” said Vimal, adding that Saina is “also doing a lot of skill practice. But practice is different from match.”

With London bronze well behind them and Tokyo a fair distance away, Saina and Vimal aren’t “looking towards the Olympics.” “I’ve told her to take it one tournament at a time. The world championships are going to be very crucial” said Vimal. “She hasn’t lost the motivation to get back to the top. She just has to enjoy, take the defeats in her stride, and get more matches under the belt.”

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