I believe we can reach semifinals, says Saina

The previous year didn’t meet the high standards of Saina Nehwal.

The top Indian woman shuttler battled injuries and indifferent form before bucking the trend with the gold at the India Open Grand Prix this year. Still some streets away from her prime form, she exudes confidence of turning the tables around. Ahead of the Uber Cup, she remains India’s best bet and aware of the responsibilities which come with it.

With 18-year-old PV Sindhu as the second singles player, Saina reckons the importance of logging the first point for India.

“I know there are a lot of expectations. We gave good performances in Asian Badminton Championships (ABC). I did not play in that tournament because I wanted to recover and train hard for this event. But the victories of others have inspired me to return to my best,” Saina said on Wednesday.

With the Thomas and Uber Cups Finals to be held for the first time in India, the focus would be on the home side and Saina hopes to perform better.

“There has always been pressure on me. I will play the opening singles and that match will make a lot of difference to the tie. The starting should be good, if that does not happen the pressure comes on the second singles. I will try to win so that it can give confidence to the entire team. I hope Sindhu and I win the first two singles, and Jwala (Gutta) and Ashwni (Ponnappa) their doubles. These three matches will be crucial. I believe we can reach the semifinals,” said the 24-year-old.

Compared to recent years, Saina believed the team have got more confidence.”We were not that strong team before.  This time we have more confidence. Earlier in singles also, we had only one player but never two or three good players. It is good to have Sindhu now. As a team we are looking strong.”

The World No 8 pinpointed Thailand as the toughest opponent in the group stage. “Against Hong Kong and Canada we are better off and we can pull off the matches. But all three singles matches will be tough against Thailand. They are strong in doubles also. Jwala and Ashwini beat the Thailand pair in doubles in ABC, so they will have the upper hand. But same cannot be said for singles,” she said.

“Ratchanok Intanon is a strong, attacking player. She will try to finish the rally as soon as possible. Porntip (Buranaprasertsuk) and Nichaon (Jindapon) are also good. I have to be ready for all of them. There are a lot of strategies which I am still to prepare. I am playing Thailand only on third day, so there's time to prepare for the match.
“There will be pressure on both the sides. Whoever handles it well will come out as winner.”

Saina holds “very” good memories of Uber Cup. “From 2006, I have been playing the first singles. I have done really well in team events. Hope this time also I do well, playing in front of the home crowd.”

Meanwhile, Saina and P Kashyap were appointed the respective team captains for the Thomas and Uber Cup, which begin on Sunday.

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