To answer that question first, it does seem Saina’s return to badminton beginning with the Thaihot China Open Super Series Tournament was a bit premature. She perished in the first round before going to participate in the Yonex Sunrise Hong Kong Open. She managed to reach the quarterfinals after some hard labor but couldn’t progress further. She didn’t relent and continued on to the Macau Open last week. Though she made it to the quarterfinals, her two victories over lower-ranked opponents were hard-fought. It wasn’t the Saina Nehwal we have known. It became instantly clear that Saina was coming back too soon without allowing herself more time for rehab and total fitness.

vimal-kumar-saina-nehwal-2408Former world no.1 Saina Nehwal suffered a serious knee-injury that forced her to limp out of 2016 Rio Olympics. She had somehow won the first round but fell prey to a much lower-ranked Ukrainian Maria Ulitina in her next match. The London Olympic bronze medalist had to undergo a knee-surgery at a Mumbai hospital and spent three months out of active badminton. After barely 10 days of work-out, Saina decided to play her first match on November 16 against Thailand’s Porntip Buranaprasertsuk at the 2016 Thaihot China Open. The Thai woman made Saina run from pillar to post before beating the Indian in three sets. If Saina was trying to test her recovery, then she should have stopped and gone back for more preparations. Instead, she tried herself yet again in following week’s Hong Kong Open. The tournament didn’t have many top players and Saina’s first round was against the same Porntip. This time, however, Saina defeated her but took 56 minutes and three games. It was clear that Saina was made to work unusually harder for her victory, a clear sign of lack of full-fitness.  In second round, Saina was stretched yet again by Japan’s Sayaka Sato before reaching the quarterfinals with another hard-fought 3-game win. That was as far as the Indian would go at Hong Kong because the local woman Cheung Ngan Yi defeated the Indian after 71 minutes and three games. The story wasn’t any different at Macau, where too, Saina fell in the quarterfinals after two extremely hard-fought three-game wins over literally unknown opponents. Not many people know about Indonesians Hanna Ramadini and Dinar Dyah Ayustine. But both women gave Saina a hard time in the first two rounds. China’s Zhang Yiman, however, didn’t find any problems in disposing off the Indian in two easy games.

This tells us that Saina Nehwal returned to playing after injury a bit too soon. Now the ace shuttler has revealed herself that she went to China Open against the advice of her coach Vimal Kumar. Before the China Open, Vimal Kumar had opined that his ward was still short of endurance and the necessary strength required for big tournaments. Saina’s arguments that she wanted to test herself in her current condition can boomerang on the emotional front, because mental strength is also an immensely important factor. Saina admitted herself in media interviews that her coach was not in favor of her playing at Hong Kong and Macau because he wanted Saina to spend more time with the rehab process. Saina added that she still wanted to play because the last three tournaments were year-end events and the next big tournament is only in March 2017. Saina said she didn’t go to China, Hong Kong and Macau for winning the tournaments but to test her game in her current physical state. That is not a very sound logic because competitive badminton requires a player to be in top physical condition.

Saina Nehwal

Next stop for Saina is India’s Premier Badminton League. This tournament is an off-season event, but top stars flock to India to earn some extra money. The lure of money, however, makes the competition interesting since top stars would want to win as many matches as possible to help their teams as well as themselves financially.