India Open: With Rare Win, Saina’s Smile Returns

Victory over top-level opponents has become rare for Saina Nehwal. And so, when she nailed the final point against Mia Blichfeldt in front of her home crowd at the YONEX SUNRISE India Open 2023, she erupted in the kind of celebration that was frequent in her halcyon years.

After five straight first round losses, Nehwal crossed the opening hurdle beating Blichfeldt 21-17 12-21 21-19. Not since beating He Bing Jiao at the Singapore Open last July has Nehwal beaten an opponent of similar stature – and the thrill of the conquest was evident in her broad smile as she came off the court.

The win of the struggling star provided a curious contrast to the straight-games defeat of home favourite Pusarla V Sindhu, who fell to Supanida Katethong for the second straight time at the India Open.

Nehwal’s combativeness saw her through.

“Just happy that I won something!” said Nehwal. “It’s been long that I was searching for some win. The confidence was down. I’m happy I played without any knee issues. The last two-three months was gradual (progress). Today, I could see that I worked on my stamina, I worked on my overall hitting game as well. And everything was going quite well.

“I was getting tough first round opponents. But I have to win something to get to the better rounds. At the moment, I think I can be very good with all the players. She’s been playing extremely well with the top players. So I think with the coverage, with the shots, with the speed today, I think I can match the top players.”

With the crowd roaring its support, Nehwal recovered from a 14-17 deficit in the third.

“It’s a dream to play in front of home crowd always. They’re so happy to see me always and they give me that kind of courage to fight back. It helped me get over the edge but finally I have to fight on the court. The mind sometimes stops working, after losing so many matches, it’s like you’re losing, you’re losing, you’re losing, but then I was like, it’s okay, you have to play 21 more points. And that’s how I pulled out that one last point.”


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