In Saina’s long shadow, Aditi, Sayali gain ground


Mumbai: Those who have had to grow under the shadow of Saina Nehwal will star in the second edition of the Tata Open All India Badminton Tournament beginning at the Cricket Club of India on Wednesday.

Saina won’t participate in the event preferring to train for the World Championships to be held in Hyderabad from August 8.

In her absence, the attention in the women’s singles will shift to World No.27 Aditi Mutatkar and National champion Sayali Gokhale.
Both will feature in the World championship. Gokhale has received a wild card for the event. Saina’s achievements should spur players to step up a gear, believes U Vimal Kumar, the former national champion and chief coach at the Tata Padukone Badminton Academy.

"Saina’s good showing will not only inspire the women but the men will also strive to do better. We tend to have a mental block when we play the Chinese but Saina’s win at the Indonesian Open will help motivate the others further," Kumar said on Tuesday. Saina beat World No.2, China’s Wang Lin, in the Super Series final.

Kumar believes that Mutatkar and Gokhale have the potential to break into the top-20 in the world. They shifted based to Bangalore four years ago to train at the Academy.

Mutatkar till 2003 had Nehwal’s number. That was till she hurt her knee, which required two surgeries, while playing a junior tournament against Nehwal in Chennai. "Aditi can play to her potential if she doesn’t put too much pressure on herself going into every tournament. She is mentally very strong and can go a long way if she remains injury free," Kumar said. Mutatkar is the No.1 seed at the Tata Open.

Mutatkar, who has had an arthroscopy on her troublesome right knee recently, is confident that if she gets an injury-free season she can scale greater heights. "In spite of two surgeries I am in the top-30. I hope to overcome some demons in my mind. If fit and confident I can break into the top-20 and then who knows…," Aditi said.

Gokhale has gained in confidence since winning the National title in February. Then as an unseeded player she won the Spanish Open without dropping a game. "Saina’s performance has been an inspiration. If she can excel at the highest level then there is no reason why we cannot do well at the international stage," Gokhale said.

For Gokhale, winning the National title has helped boost her profile. "The biggest change is that I have been able to participate in international tournaments and get more exposure. I am keen to do well at the Tata Open and the World Championships."


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