Far from mourning the end of her brief reign as the world number one, Indian shuttler Saina Nehwal is happy that she at least made it to where no other non-Chinese has reached in the past four years.
Since Dane Tine Baun’s rise to the top in late 2010, China’s badminton hegemony has ensured one of their own topped women’s singles rankings until late last month.
Nehwal ended that streak when she stormed into the final of the India Open in the last week of March.
The Indian toppled Olympic champion Li Xuerui, who had played nine events compared to Nehwal’s 13 in the preceding 52 week-period that are taken into account while calculating rankings.
The Indian’s joy, however, proved short-lived.
Li beat Nehwal in the semi-final of the Malaysian Super Series Premier event last week, which effectively means the Indian would lose the number one position when new rankings were announced on Thursday (9).
“Number one is number one, however brief or long the duration is,” Nehwal said. “The records are indelible. Nobody can change my name there (at the top) for that duration.
“It is one of the best (feeling),” said the 25-year-old, convinced she can reclaim the top spot again just by staying fit and playing consistently.
“Many more chances will come where I can show even better results.”
Even if for a week, Nehwal’s rise to the top of singles rankings is a significant development in women’s badminton which China has ruthlessly dominated.
“It is very difficult to fight the Chinese players,” said the London Olympic bronze medallist, acknowledging China’s deeper talent pool.
“They have four to six world-class players. They are well-trained and hungry for opportunities.”
Thanks to their talent pool and a state-run system to groom them, China’s badminton dominance may not end anytime soon but India, of late, have made significant progress.
Late last year, Nehwal won the women’s title in China Open Super Series Premier event while compatriot Kidambi Srikanth won the men’s crown, stunning two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan in the final.
Nehwal and Srikanth replicated that success at this year’s India Open, underlining the steady progress the country has made in recent times.
“Winning India Open is an indication that Indians are capable of winning big tournaments. It was an open tournament and (shuttlers from) a lot of countries were fighting to win,” Nehwal added.
India’s rise has caught the attention of the sport’s world governing body as well.
“What’s transpired in Indian badminton over recent years is a great example of how one sport can capture a country’s imagination and how vital support can help it to flourish…” Badminton World Federation Secretary General Thomas Lund said in a statement on Tuesday.