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India Open: Malvika Bansod beats her idol Saina Nehwal to enter quarters

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Malvika Bansod was so overawed on Thursday that she made it a point to not look at the face of her opponent, get distracted and lose. On the other side of the net was her idol Saina Nehwal, whose career the 20-year-old has religiously followed ever since she saw posters of the former world No.1 at a state-level tournament nine years back.

But that didn’t stop Bansod from becoming only the second Indian after PV Sindhu to defeat Nehwal in an international tournament. In the domestic circuit, Aparna Popat was the last to beat the two-time World Championship medallist 16 years ago at the senior national championships in Bengaluru.

“It has not sunk in yet,” said Bansod, sounding ecstatic. “It was a dream come true to play against her in such a big event. Saina has been my idol because she has been the flag-bearer of women’s badminton in India for more than a decade. That’s the reason why I took up badminton. When I started out, I used to get overawed by her game, style of play and power.”

Thirty four minutes was all it took for the Nagpur-born to beat Nehwal, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, 21-17, 21-9 and notch up the biggest win of her fledgling career and make the quarter-finals of the $400,000 India Open at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex in New Delhi.

Her performance earned the praise from Nehwal too. “Malvika is doing well at the highest level and going to improve (from here). She is a very good rally player. I hope she does well in the tournament,” said Nehwal, who has been hit by groin and knee injuries of late.

After winning multiple junior tournaments, Bansod made her senior international debut in September 2019 and immediately impressed with titles in Maldives and Nepal. She also beat some of India’s best in two senior national ranking tournaments in Bareilly (2018) and Kozhikode (2019).

Consistent performances saw her world ranking rise from 452 in September 2019 to 111 now. Bansod aims to break into the top-100 to get automatic qualification for top-tier tournaments.

Though the pandemic halted her tournament play, Bansod took special permission to train in Raipur under coach Sanjay Mishra. “The last two years were difficult because of the pandemic as training was not the way it was before. My coach took special effort to keep my training on during these difficult times. He kept special sessions for me during lockdown so that I don’t miss training,” she said.

That regimen helped Bansod win immediately after the restart of the calendar. She won her third senior national ranking tournament in Hyderabad last year and followed that with two international crowns in Uganda and Lithuania. “My performances in Uber and Sudirman Cups 4-5 months ago were (also) good. I got to learn a lot from that experience. I got to see and play with Saina during practice sessions. That experience helped me to win,” said Bansod, who will face compatriot Aakarshi Kashyap on Friday.

Mishra, the chief national junior coach who has trained Bansod for five years, said she has improved a lot. “She is mainly a rally player, has good strokes but to win international tournaments you need power and speed. Those are the two aspects we have to work on, that is our target.”

Courtesy – www.hindustantimes.com

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