MALAYSIA MASTERS R16 – Saina finds winning formula against An

On Day 3 of the Malaysia Masters, the singles upsets began with Saina Nehwal winning a grudge match against An Se Young but they didn’t end there as Chou Tien […]

On Day 3 of the , the singles upsets began with Saina Nehwal winning a grudge match against but they didn’t end there as Chou Tien Chen and Ratchanok Intanon were also shown the door.

By Don Hearn, Badzine correspondent live in Kuala Lumpur.  Photos: Mark Phelan / Badmintonphoto (live)

Saina Nehwal had a frustrating rash of first-round exits this past autumn.  The one time she managed to reach a quarter-final, she ran up against the dream run at the French Open by teenaged Korean sensation An Se Young.

On Thursday at the Malaysia Masters, Saina booked her spot in another quarter-final.  To do it, she had to do what few shuttlers have even had the opportunity to do: win a grudge match against An Se Young.

An is winless against a few players.  Still others have faced her once and lost – including top ten players Tai Tzu Ying, P. V. Sindhu, and Michelle Li – or multiple times in the case of two Japanese players.  In the case of Sung Ji Hyun and Carolina Marin, it took An a couple of matches, but she found the answer.  Only three players who’ve been surprised in their first encounter with the 17-year-old Korean have had the chance to make good and taken it.

Today, Saina Nehwal became the third such.  She fought back from a slight deficit in the first game by maintaining her consistency to win it 23-21.  Then in the second game, she was even more patient as the Korean became consistently more erratic.

“An Se Young is in the limelight and she’s been giving a tough fight to all the top players but I think I was good today,” said Saina after the win.  “I could see that I was moving well.  It’s very rare that I move well nowadays but today was one of the rare days.

On her preparation for the new season, Saina said, “I don’t know if it was a good decision or not but I missed the Syed Modi and the Korea Masters.  I thought it would be better if I stay and rest and think about what I can do and how I can come back and I think those 3 or 4 weeks really helped me to think through things and start anew.  Sometimes you lose your confidence and you don’t want to play after losing so many first rounds.

On the string of first-round exits, Saina elaborated, “Sometimes it’s a mystery.  Sometimes I just can’t find the answers and sometimes I find the rhythm and beat those tough players again.  I mean, An Se Young was winning so much but suddenly she’s having a rough patch.  That happens for everyone.  No one can play 12, 13 tournaments perfectly.

“I would say the last 4 or 5 years it’s been getting stronger and stronger.  It used to be like, okay we can make it at least to the quarters but nowadays the first round itself is tricky and everyone wants to win and do well so the competition is tough.

“Everyone has plus points and minus points,” said of her ability to trouble An.  “Even if someone beats Carolina Marin, Carolina is tough for me so you have those few players who are tough for someone and easy for another player to play.  I think that’s what An Se Young does.  She has an all-around game.  If you attack a lot with her, she’s very comfortable.  She’s going to be excellent.  But if you stick on with her and play, play, play, that’s when she drags a little bit.

“It’s not going to happen always but you have to just stick to her.  It’s tough to beat someone who has a complete game like her.  She’s good at the net, she’s good on defense and she also has those sharp shots so you have to be really, really good and stick with her.

I didn’t realize there was such a sideways drift.  I was just playing the way I felt I should play.  I’m not someone who plays very great line shots.  I want to just play the shots and keep the rally in momentum.  But she was having trouble finding the line on the one side.

“For me, the Olympics is secondary,” Saina said when asked about her present objectives.  “The most important is to beat good players and do well in the tournaments and then we can think about Olympics.  I’ve played 3 good Olympics so the matter is finally, will I be able to beat those good players tomorrow.  I need the confidence to beat at least a few of them, then qualifying would give me a bit of happiness.

On her upcoming match, the 29-year-old said, “I think that Carolina Marin [pictured above] is one of the toughest for everyone.  What I can say right now is that I want to give my best, and beat someone in the top 5 and aim for getting back to he top 5.  If I have that kind of a game, I can do well.”

With An gone, the youngest quarter-finalist at the Malaysia Masters will be China’s Wang Zhiyi (pictured left).  Wang won a nail-biter against two-time defending champion Ratchanok Intanon.  The Thai won narrowly in the opening game but Wang dominated the second.  In the decider, Intanon looked cool and confident while playing catch-up but in the end, it slipped away even after she had saved two match points.

Nor was that the only surprise disappointment for Thailand.  On the same court a few matches later, mixed doubles 4th seeds Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai lost a close two-game contest to Takuro Hoki and Wakana Nagahara.  Nagahara, was unable to participate in her World Champion partnership in women’s doubles due to her partner withdrawing but she and Hoki, whose men’s dubles partner also backed out at the last minute, havee made the best of their situation by reaching the quarter-finals.

Men’s singles lost its 2nd seed on Thursday as well.  Chou Tien Chen has historically enjoyed plenty of success against opponent Ng Ka Long (pictured right) but today marked his second straight loss to the Hong Kong shuttler.  Ng just ran away with the second game and although Chou was able to save 6 match points, Ng made the 7th count and finished it 23-21, 21-17.

The final eight in men’s singles will also have some home involvement.  Up-and-coming Malaysian star Lee Zii Jia (pictured below) won in two close games against India’s Sameer Verma.

Lee had beaten Verma twice last year, and also lost once but, as with his first-round opponent Anders Antonsen, this was the first time he had played the Indian with a home court advantage.

“Of course, I will play with confidence because this is my home and the home crowd will all be cheering for me,” said Lee after the match.

Next up, he will face China’s Shi Yuqi.  Lee has lost both his encounters with Shi, which both came in team events, the first one being at the Asian Men’s Team Championships in Alor Setar.

Lee Zii Jia downplayed the pressure of being the last Malaysian singles player in action at the Malaysia Masters, where last year there were still 3 local hopes left at the quarter-final stage: “For me, I don’t think about the pressure. I just try to enjoy the game and not think too much.”

Click here for complete Round of 16 results

Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @