Mumbai: An absolute newbie to the elite bracket of badminton, Saina Nehwal will find the air around her at the Likas Sports Complex in East Malaysia a tad too rarefied for her comfort. Seventh on the list of the world’s leading eight women, selected to play the BWF World Super Series Masters Finals, Nehwal has been drawn alongside three opponents against whom she is yet to register a win in her career. The 18-year-old hence, is expecting nothing less than a very tough challenge over the 18-21 December tournament — which besides being badminton’s richest, will also be Nehwal’s first assignment, testing her Top-10 mettle.
Nehwal is placed in Group B — led by Denmark’s Tine Rasmussen (World No 2), French World No 7 Pi Hongyan and local challenger 25-year-old Wong Mew Choo, who has beaten the Indian ace in both their face-offs earlier. Nehwal has in fact, lost all of the half-dozen encounters against the lot she’ll come up against in the year-ending extravaganza. “It will be very, very tough against all of them. Tine is strong and a No. 2, while Pi Hongyan is known to pick every shuttle. Wong Mew Choo is tricky with her aggression and speed,” Nehwal said, expecting every match to start a 50-50 affair — not more.
Recently declared Badminton World Federation’s Most Promising Player of the year, by 21 council members — after edging out Korean Lee Yong Dae and Kevin Gordon of Guyana — Nehwal entered the Super Series Masters after being promoted from the reserve list, after two from China withdrew. Her late entry confirmation, and hiccups over her passport renewal notwithstanding, Nehwal is hopeful of pulling off the unexpected. “I had a good training session before I left, and I’ll get another one tomorrow. I’m happy with the practice, though I haven’t trained at the main courts,” she said from Malaysia, two days prior to the start of the competition, which comprises a round robin format in two pools of four, with the first and second advancing to the semi-finals.
While the Chinese pull-outs as also some other high-profile withdrawals have taken some shine off this ambitious tournament, her Malaysia stay might prove to be the perfect sweeping finish to a remarkable year for the teenager.