All England Open Badminton: A look back at Saina Nehwal's best performances
Saina Nehwal is one of the greatest shuttlers that India have ever produced.
She is the former world no.1 and has 24 international titles to her name including 11 in Super Series. She also has three Olympic appearances to her name and became the first Indian shuttler to achieve a podium-finish when she won the bronze medal in the London Games in 2012.
In 2015, she attained the top ranking in the world to become the only Indian woman to claim the milestone and the second after badminton legend Prakash Padukone. Incidentally, it was in this very same year that Nehwal put her best foot forward in the All England Open and finished as runner-up.
She will again take part in this edition of the competition, which is set to start on March 17. However, her recent form is a cause of worry after she was ousted in the first round in the recently concluded Swiss Open 2021. She is yet to qualify for the Olympics, which makes it absolutely crucial for her to produce her best game in the upcoming All England Open.
If a shuttler is ranked within the Top 16 of the 'Race to Tokyo', then she automatically qualifies for the Olympics. But Nehwal currently stands at 19th, which makes it pivotal for her to put up a good show in Birmingham.
She has participated in the prestigious tournament 14 times. Let us take a look at some of her best performances.
Saina was the seventh seed in that edition of All England, the only Indian to be seeded.
In the first round, she was up against Judith Meulendijks of the Netherlands. The Dutch player threw a stiff challenge at Saina and matched her toe-to-toe in the first game. Meulendijks made her sweat for every point and it seemed that Indian would slip. However, Nehwal held her nerve and rallied after the 15-point mark to win the game 21-18.
In the second game, she continued to attack with her powerful smashes and her opponent had no answer to those. She raced to win the second set 21-11 and progress into the next round.
In the next match, she locked horns with South Korean Bae Seung-hee. She had little difficulty in winning the first game as the scoreline read 21-11. But, in the next game, Bae started asking serious questions and Nehwal was pushed to her limits. After a strenuous battle in the second set, the twice CWG (Commonwealth Games) gold winner emerged victorious edging out her rival 22-20 to win the round in straight games.
In the quarterfinals, Nehwal had her engine already warmed up and she brushed aside the German Challenge of Juliane Schenk 21-8, 21-14.
In the semi-finals, she set up a lip-smacking encounter with Tine Rasmussen of Denmark. In the first game, the two players matched each other in every skill set but the Dane held her nerves and went on to win it 21-19.
Saina started strongly in the second game and looked primed to make a comeback. But the eventual champion was too good for her and she bowed out of the tournament losing the match in straight games (21-19, 21-17).
Saina Nehwal was the second seed this year and was one of the prime contenders to win the title.
In the first round, she met Thai international Sapsiree Taerattanachai. The first game went as expected as the Indian blew away her opponent 21-8. It seemed that Nehwal would storm her way into the second round but that was not the case.
Taerattanachai stunned her more illustrated opponent and won the second game 21-18. She continued her good form in the third game and matched Saina's efforts with aplomb. However, Saina's quality shone through and she managed to escape an upset by winning the game 21-16.
After an exhausting match in the first round, she met Indonesia's Bellaetrix Manuputty. She was struggling to find her rhythm, which allowed her opponent to earn quick points. Nevertheless, she maintained her composure and pocketed the first game 21-16. She upped the ante in the next game and ensured that Manuputty had little room to manoeuvre, eventually helping her in winning the round in straight games (21-16, 21-11).
In the quarterfinals, she clashed against sixth seed Wang Shixian of China. Both players went hammer and tongs at each other right from the word go. The first game went right down the wire and it was the Indian who bagged it with a scoreline of 23-21. In the second game, both players continued with their blitzkrieg and this time Nehwal had to concede 21-19. Everything was at stake in the third game and as the rallies went longer, Wang's intensity kept dropping which allowed Nehwal to clinch the round and seal a semi-final berth.
In the last four, she locked horns with another Thai player in Ratchanok Inthanon. The eighth-seed had been in phenomenal form throughout the tournament and Nehwal was seen struggling to match her pace and guile. She lost out in the first game 21-15 and although she showed some resistance in the second, it was not enough to stage a comeback (21-19).
Saina was seeded third in this edition of the tournament. After top-seed Li Xuerui made an early exit it was hoped that Nehwal could bag her maiden All England title.
In the first round, she thrashed Bellaetrix Manuputty 21-8, 21-12. The Hisar-born player was firing on all cylinders right from day one.
In the second round, she ousted South Korean Kim Hyo-min with little trouble. She won the first game 21-15 and also the second with an identical score to advance to the next round.
In the quarters she went up against fifth seed Wang Yihan of China. It was no surprise when the two shuttlers were almost impossible to separate in the first game as they fought tooth and nail. Saina kept her calm and eked out the game 21-19. However, in the second game, she came up with her best and thrashed Wang 21-6.
In the semi-finals, she faced another Chinese opponent in the shape of Sun Yu. She carried her brilliant form into this match as well and outclassed her rival 21-13, 21-13.
Spaniard Carolina Marin was waiting for her in the final. The 2016 Olympic gold medallist was in supreme form throughout the course of the competition and posed a serious threat to Saina's ambition.
Earlier that year, the Indian had got the better of Marin in the Syed Modi International Grand Prix and Marin was vying for revenge.
However, in the first game, Saina prevailed 21-16. With her back to the wall Marin mounted a spirited comeback and won the second game 21-14. In the decider, she was unstoppable and Saina's campaign ended as she wilted in the third game 21-7.