Bengaluru: Before the onset of the second edition of the Premier Badminton League (PBL), there had been widespread speculation as to whether Saina Nehwal, just returning to international badminton after knee surgery in September, would take the risk of playing in a tournament that is not anywhere near as serious as the BWF Super Series and Grand Prix circuit.
Saina’s coach Vimal Kumar had set all speculation at rest by insisting that his ward would take part in the competition as it would not be overly stressful, and would, in fact, help her improve her fitness, speed and readiness for the rigours of international competition in the 2017 season.
That the former Indian national champion had got his reading of the situation spot on could be seen on Monday night, when Saina extracted sweet revenge for her defeat in the November 2016 Hong Kong Open at the hands of the Hong Kong China ace, Cheung Ngan Yi, with a gritty, come-from-behind 9-11, 11-5, 11-5 triumph.
Playing her women’s singles match as the crucial trump for Awadhe Warriors, the 26-year-old Indian shuttle queen overcame a slow start, to hit her straps from the onset of the second game, and emerge victorious in most of the lengthy rallies that she engaged Cheung in. The two points she delivered were instrumental in her team’s narrow 4-3 victory over Bengaluru Blasters, and ensured their qualification for the semi-finals.
So well did Saina play that the crowds at the Koramangala Indoor Stadium in Bengaluru were torn between cheering for their team’s representative and for the girl who has become a ‘local’ here after switching from training at the Hyderabad-based Pullela Gopichand Academy to the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, a couple of years ago.
“I feel I am improving match by match, and am very happy that I have been able to win three of my four matches in this tournament against some of the top players in the world, so soon after recovering from knee surgery,” she said later, in a courtside interview. “There is a little bit of stiffness and pain in the knee at the start of the match, but it disappears when I get warmed up, and I can play freely.”
Indeed, Saina’s showing against Cheung helped her notch up her third triumph in four outings in the ongoing PBL, the sole blemish in her record coming from her opening outing against world and Olympic champion Carolina Marin in the course of the Hyderabad Hunters-Awadhe Warriors clash in Hyderabad, on the second day of the New Year.