Saina has always been my idol, win over her one of the biggest of my career: Malvika Bansod
"She has been my idol because she has been the flag bearer of women's badminton in India for more than a decade"
Growing up idolising Saina Nehwal and her power game, promising shuttler Malvika Bansod on Thursday termed her India Open victory over the Olympic medallist "one of the biggest" of her fledgling career. As Malvika got down to reflect on her second-round win over the injury-plagued star in the Super 500 tournament, she said it was yet to sink in. "This has not sunk in yet. The feeling is great and I was really excited after the win," Malvika, 20, said after her 21-17 21-0 win over the former world number one.
"She has been my idol because she has been the flag bearer of women's badminton in India for more than a decade. Seeing her matches when I started out, I used to get very overawed by her game. "Her style of play, she has got a lot of power so I idolise that in her game. Today I played an all-round game, there was nothing specific about it." It was the first time the two were meeting in big tournament. "She has always been my idol. So playing against her was a dream come true and that too in the Indian Open, on such a big stage. A Super 500 tournament, it was a big achievement for me, one of the biggest wins of my career so far."
Having overcome a difficult journey in the last two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malvika is now aiming to improve her world rankings. The player from Nagpur is currently ranked 111th. "I am aiming for better ranking in the near future so that I can play in high ranking tournaments like Super 500 Super 300 and Super 1000, so that I could improve my ranking faster." Speaking about the recent times, she said, "The journey in the last two years has been difficult in many ways because of the pandemic as training has not been the way it was before the pandemic."
Malvika has so far won three all India senior ranking tournaments -- the first one was in Bareilly in 2018, the next was in Kozhikode, Kerala in 2019 and the third one was in Hyderabad last year. "My coach Mr Sanjay Mishra has taken special effort to keep my training on during these difficult times and he has kept special sessions for me during the lockdown periods so that I don't miss training. It's because of that I could win these tournaments."
"I don't think think there was any pressure on me today. I just thought that I have to give my best and play freely." She said the experience of turning up in the Uber Cup and Sudirman Cup helped. "My performance in Uber Cup and Sudirman Cup four-five months ago were definitely good. I have learnt a lot from that experience and I got to play with Saina during practice sessions. That experience did help me today." Asked where she needs to improve, Malvika said, "I think that after having a big lead, I tend to lose points. I need to cut down on unforced errors." Saina, 31, who has been dealing with injuries since her knee surgery post the Rio Olympics 2016, lavished praise on her younger opponent after the match, saying she is a "very good" rally player.
In her most recent bout with injuries, Saina had sustained a groin injury in October during her first Thomas and Uber Cup Final match against Spain's Clara Azurmendi in Denmark. The Indian was forced to retire as a result. "I started playing on December 26-27, in the 6-7 days that I got before the tournament I tried to improve my movement, though I could not work much do physical fitness. "But I am happy that the body could stand those two matches.
I didn't have to give up anywhere because of my groin or my knee but I could play those shots," Saina said. She added, "Today I was moving on the court but my fitness is still not where it should be. I came here to see were I stand. My body is good but fitness level (need to improve)."