Saina Nehwal the ‘Indian wonder girl’ is on her way at Destination Dubai Superseries Finals

Despite playing her opening Destination Dubai Superseries Finals match against Wang Shixian, of China, on a workday afternoon, she did not feel lonely, writes Paul Radley.
Saina Nehwal enjoyed some support from her native India during the Destination World Superseries Finals on Wednesday. Chris Lee / Getty Images
Saina Nehwal enjoyed some support from her native India during the Destination World Superseries Finals on Wednesday. Chris Lee / Getty Images

DUBAI // It was clear who the schoolboy in the front row was supporting.

“Saina versus China” read the pleasantly minimalist rhyming couplet on his homemade placard.

So no pressure then, Saina. Just you versus the world’s most populous nation, which contains a large swathe of people who are wholly passionate about badminton.

Luckily, Saina Nehwal has broad enough shoulders to cope.

Even though she has the weight of her own nation’s expectations on her, too, at badminton’s end-of-season “superseries” this week.

India’s cricketers are often said to represent the hopes of the “blue billion”.

At least they can share the burden across 11 of them. All Nehwal has to defend herself is a flimsy badminton racquet.

She also has a ready band of supporters – she is an Indian in Dubai, after all.

Despite playing her opening Destination Dubai Superseries Finals match against Wang Shixian, of China, on a workday afternoon, she did not feel lonely.

The 300 or so people at the Hamdan Sports Centre could have felt lost in a venue that seats 15,000, but the noise the Indian supporters made was cacophonous.

“It is not like a home away from home – it is just home,” Nehwal said of playing in Dubai.

“Badminton is popular in Asia, but not so much in Dubai. I am very, very happy they have brought this tournament here.”

Badminton’s season-ending series will be played in this city for at least the next four years, by the terms of a deal between the sport’s governing body and Dubai Sports Council.

That suits Nehwal, the “Indian wonder girl” as another banner proclaimed here during her win over Wang.

“I knew there would be a lot of Indians here, so there were a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure,” said the No 4-ranked player.

“When I played in Delhi for the superseries event there earlier this year, the atmosphere was just the same.”

This new event, played on a makeshift court temporarily covering the swimming pool for which this arena was built, is still to catch on.

The opening day attracted hundreds of supporters rather than thousands, but it was a start.

The world’s best are here and they showed their credentials on the opening day. Each of the top men’s seeds, Chen Long and Jan O Jorgensen raced through their matches without dropping a game.

Jorgensen beat last year’s runner up Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia in the morning singles, and he was satisfied with the outcome.

“I’m very happy with that result, but I had to settle with the conditions in the beginning, but I knew if I kept at it, I could turn it around,” the Danish player said.

“I’m happy to be here. We had high expectations of Dubai and everything has been great here so far – the court, the hotel, the food, shopping, everything. It is hard to imagine this is actually a pool.”

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 18, 2014 04:00 AM

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