New Delhi: Already assured of a berth in the Olympics, Saina Nehwal said she would look to beat the Chinese shuttlers in the run-up to the London Games to gain a psychological advantage ahead of the big event. With the Olympics about three months away, the world number five Indian said she is in the best position to win a medal this time around.
"I played well in the Swiss Open and I am in good form this time. But it is not easy to compete with the Chinese at the top level. Last one year was tough for me, I had an ankle injury and my form also dipped, but I'm happy to have regained by form before the Olympics," said Saina, who defended her Swiss Grand Prix Gold title in March.
"In the run-up to the Games, I would play against a lot of Chinese players. It would be like one against seven Chinese and I want to put pressure on them by beating them, so that they can also be under some tension before the Olympics."
Speaking about the Olympics, Saina said: "It is a mental challenge more than a physical one. I have to be more patient and have control over the mind during the Olympics. There is lots of expectations."
The 22-year-old said she is a much better player than she used to be four years back when she participated in the Beijing Olympics. "I am a better player now. I am more confident and my strokes and speed have also improved and I have also grown stronger mentally. It is very different this time because people expect me to win a gold."
"2008 (Olympics) loss is difficult to forget but I have learnt to get over losses now. I have been playing international badminton for the last 10 years and have lost and won many matches, but it is always difficult to get over an Olympic or a World Championship loss."
Saina also said she would depend on her rallies more to compete with the Chinese as she is very fit now after losing more than 5kgs to gain speed. "I will play longer rallies as I can run much better now. You can make me play for two hours, no problem. I am fitter than probably any other player right now," said Saina. "The next few months will be crucial because there will be major corrections in the tournaments such as ABC, India Open, Singapore Open in the run-up to the Olympics. There are a few Chinese players like Wang Yihan, Li Xuerui and Jiang Yanjiao, whose games are a bit tricky," she said.
Saina will be playing back-to-back tournaments - Asian Badminton Championships from April 17 and India Super Series from April 24.
National coach Pullela Gopichand is also happy with Saina's progress and preparation, but said the Indian ace needs to be more consistent.
"She has improved in every aspect of the game. I don't say a sea change but there has been a marked difference. She can adapt well and her all-round game has improved. But she needs to be more consistent," said Gopichand, who is also Saina's mentor.
"She is never found wanting because of want of effort. In fact, it is the other way round, she gets into the game too much and wants excessively and it creates the pressure and sometimes you have to tell her to back off and that would be the key in the Olympics," he said.
Gopichand also said he is confident that five Indians would qualify for the Olympics. "Beside Saina, I am confident Jwala [Gutta], Ashwini [Ponnappa] and V Diju and one from Ajay [Jayaram] and [Parupalli] Kashyap will qualify for the Olympics," he said.
Asked about the performance of the players, the former All England champion said, "Worldwide the performance of players has gone down because they are playing too many tournaments in pursuit of qualifying for the Games. So Kashyap and Jayaram have also not done too well, everyone is pushing the limits. So if Jayaram and Kashyap keep playing the same, then naturally Ajay will qualify, but I feel it will go down the wire in the Indian Open."