Saina Nehwal doesn’t really have a lot of affection for the badminton courts at Siri Fort. For, the relatively smaller venue has plenty of drift which makes it difficult for shuttles to go where players want them to.
“These courts really don’t suit me,” Nehwal had complained after one of her scratchy early matches at the 2015 India Open Super Series. Then again, apart from the Commonwealth title in 2010, she had never got past the quarterfinals in the four previous editions of her “home” Super Series at this venue.
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Yet, it’s this “draughty” venue that’s perhaps going to be particularly dear to Saina and historic in the context of Indian badminton. On Saturday, as a result of the matches that she played in this hall, she will become the first Indian woman to reach the world No.1 in the international badminton rankings when the BWF releases the list next Thursday
The scenario of Nehwal ascending the rankings list was clear ahead of the tournament itself. Badminton’s world ranking takes into account a player’s ten-best performances over the past 52 weeks. And before the tournament, Nehwal was ranked world No.2 with 74,381 points behind China’s Li Xuerui (79,214 points).
But Xuerui, who was the runner-up in Delhi last year, has been battling injury. The Chinese champion wasn’t even participating this year which meant she will drop 7,800 points, lowering her tally to 71,414. Indeed, Nehwal would have surged ahead of Xuerui, even if she had pulled out herself. The only obstacle for Nehwal was if Spaniard Carolina Marin won the tournament and if she herself failed to make the final.
On Saturday afternoon, Marin faltered as she lost 19-21, 23-21, 22-20 to Thailand’s Intanon Ratchanok. The result meant that Marin will have 73,618 points as of next week. But that isn’t to say Nehwal will achieve her top rank purely by another’s performance.
Playing a tricky Japanese opponent Yui Hashimoto, to whom she had lost in the 2013 edition of this tournament, Nehwal cruised to a 21-15, 21-11 win to make the final herself guaranteeing herself 77,141 points.
When the rankings list does become official next week, Nehwal will be the first non-Chinese player since Denmark’s Tine Baun in 2010 to hold the number one spot in the women’s category. In the men’s category, Prakash Padukone had held that position 35 years ago. Nehwal was herself ranked at 2 back in 2010 and has been a top-10 player since 2009.
After her win against Hashimoto, Nehwal let out a smile. “It’s an incredible feeling. I sometimes think I won’t believe it until I see the ranking list myself,” she said.