After she won the 2012 London Olympics bronze medal, Saina Nehwal's coach Pulella Gopichand said the Chinese domination on world badminton was slowly loosening and Saina Nehwal was fast emerging the single biggest threat. In Sydney on Sunday, Saina became the first non-Chinese to win a women's singles Super Series title in 2014 when she won the Australian Open in consummate fashion.
Saina's biggest worry on Sunday was not her Spanish opponent Carolina Marin. She woke up to painful and bleeding blisters. A win away from her first major crown in 20 months, Saina fought pain and returned an emphatic 21-18, 21-11 win in 43 minutes to clinch her first Super Series title in a long time. She had won the Denmark Open in October 2012.
The $750,000 tournament in Australia was the eighth Super Series tournament this year. The previous seven have all been taken by the top Chinese shuttlers. World No.3 Yihan Wang won in South Korea and Singapore, World No.2 Shixian Wang came out victorious at All-England and India while World No.1 and reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui won in Malaysia, Japan and Indonesia.
Beating top seed Chinese Shixian Wang on Saturday made Saina the favourite on Sunday. A determined Saina won her second title of the season after winning the India Grand Prix Gold in Lucknow in January. Her eyes will now be on the next Super Series meet, the $500,000 Denmark Open in Odense from October 14 to October 19.
Hampered by injuries, Saina's form and ranking took a massive dip after the 2012 Denmark Open in October. She crashed from No. 2 in the world to No. 9. She played a stellar role to help her team win the inaugural Indian Badminton League in 2013, but that did not help win international points.
Critics started writing off the 24-year-old, saying Saina was on the decline and the Chinese will continue to rule the roost. But Saina was quietly confident as she worked her way up and the Sydney win only underlined her burning desire to smash her critics.
"This is one victory which answered all the doubts. There were many who thought I could never win again. This is a very special triumph for me because I believed I could win very soon and it happened," said Saina after winning her seventh Super Series final.
"Surely this was the biggest challenge because I had to prove that I still am one of the best players in the world," a confident Saina said.