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Saina Nehwal vs PV Sindhu – Who is India’s best at the moment?

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Amlan Majumdar

11/29/2016

Has PV Sindhu surpassed Saina Nehwal?

A recent survey has shown that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds – which is a second lower than the average attention span of a goldfish. This attention span is not just limited to the type of content we like to read or watch. In this era of the Gifs and the 2-minute noodles, we hop from one hero to the next in a matter of months. There was a time, not in the too distant past, when Saina Nehwal was one of the heartthrobs of the nation. Now, PV Sindhu is the star everyone adores. In fact, Saina, who was struggling with her knee injury, had to face ridicule on social media after Sindhu’s success at the Rio Olympics.

The fact that Saina has maintained her place in the top-10 rankings since 2009, the fact that she has won over 20 international titles, and that she brought Indian badminton back on the international map were quickly forgotten.

It might be a bit too early in her career, but Sindhu is already being compared to the 26-year-old. In the recently held PBL auction, Sindhu was bought for a whopping Rs 39 lakhs by the Chennai Smashers, whereas Saina was retained by Awadhe Warriors for Rs 33 lakhs. This is the first time the 21-year-old will be paid more than Saina in the PBL. But, is she the best India badminton player at the moment?

Style of play

Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu’s style of play is a study in contrast. While the former exudes calmness on the court, Sindhu has become known for her uninhibited aggression. Saina is seldom rattled by her opponents’ antics, whereas it was easier to get under the skin of Sindhu with just a couple of body smashes. Things have changed a bit of late, though. Under the guidance of Pullela Gopichand, Sindhu has learned to harness that aggression of hers without letting her concentration slip in games. During the Olympics, Sindhu was more expressive on the court with her fist pumps and shrieks, but it was a controlled aggression even when she was up against a pesky opponent like Carolina Marin.

Sindhu is also a natural stroke maker, something Saina has herself admitted she lacks. The Hyderabad-born shuttler is as talented as they come, whereas Saina has reached the top riding on her hard work, training, and dedication more than anything else. It is fair to say that potentially, Sindhu is likely to have a higher peak in her career than Saina. Whether she will be able to utilize her talent to the fullest, only time will tell.

Sindhu, at 5 ft 10.5 in, uses her height to devastating effect. She packs a lot of power in her smashes, and her power-play can unsettle most of her opponents. She tries to keep the rallies short and goes for the winner at every opportunity. Saina, on the other hand, is someone who stretches her rallies, wears down her opponent, and waits for them to make a mistake. Her recent injuries might have hampered her court coverage a bit, but despite Sindhu’s huge reach, Saina has better court coverage than her. She is also a better player at the net than Sindhu, who is still working on improving that aspect of her game.

Saina’s defensive game is miles ahead of Sindhu at the moment, although the latter’s retrieving ability has improved significantly in recent times. Whereas, Sindhu has a bigger arsenal of weapons in her attack than the senior star. While Saina likes faster court conditions, like in Asia where they use air conditioners and shuttles travel quicker, whereas Sindhu is more at home when the conditions are slower.

Tournament success

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It is fair to say that Sindhu has a lot of miles to cover to catch up to the success Saina Nehwal has produced on the international stage in her senior career which had started almost a decade back. Of course, Sindhu has age on her side, and she has already made a good start towards eclipsing Saina’s record. However, at the moment, it is a mismatch.

Saina Nehwal has won 22 individual titles so far, which includes three Super Series Premier trophies – the 2012 Indonesia Open, the 2012 Denmark Open, and the memorable win at the 2014 China Open. She did announce her arrival long way back with a gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games at the age of 20, and two years later she won the Bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. What made that bronze special was the fact that there was no precedent in front of her. No Indian shuttler had done what she did at London. In a way, she has set the standards for the likes of Sindhu to follow.

Sindhu did better on that standard at Rio, as she produced a series of stunning performances on her route to the final, where she lost to Marin but not before giving her a run for her money. The manner and ease with which she defeated the then World No.2 Wang Yihan in the quarters was phenomenal. Earlier this week, she also finally broke her Super Series duck by beating Sun Yu at the China Open. The 21-year-old had already won two bronze medals at the World Championships, in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and she is well on her way to matching or even bettering Saina’s success.

However, at this moment, Saina’s overall record is far too superior to her.

Performance against Top-10

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Sindhu has produced some memorable performances against higher-ranked stars. From defeating the then World No.2 Wang Yihan to enter the quarters of the Badminton World Championship as an 18-year-old to defeating Tai Tzu-Ying, Wang Yihan, and Carolina Marin on her way to the final of the Denmark Open last year to beating the likes of Tai Tzu-Ying, Wang Yihan, and Nozomi Okuhara at Rio. However, it is her consistency which has let her down at times.

Saina has a far superior record than her against the current top-10 players. In fact, apart from Li Xuerui, her age-old nemesis, and Tai Tzu Ying, Saina leads the head-to-head record against every other top 10 player, including World No.1 Carolina Marin. She has won 36 (53.73%) of her 67 matches against the current top 10, which is superior to Sindhu’s 24 wins (43.64%) in 55 matches. If you discount the two PBL encounters between Saina and Sindhu, which were also won by the former, the former World No.1 had defeated Sindhu in straight sets when they faced each other two years back at the India Grand Prix Gold. Sindhu is a much-improved player now, but she still has to perform a lot more consistently against top-ranked opponents to be able to draw comparisons with Saina.

Verdict

Despite her recent struggle with her fitness, Saina Nehwal remains India’s No.1 women shuttler at the moment. PV Sindhu has been on a roll recently, but she still has a lot of catching up to do. Of course, she has the potential to do so, but she is not a finished product yet. If she continues this run of form for the next 2 years, she will be able to displace Saina, that is unless Saina fails to recover her mojo after her knee surgery.

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