When Saina Nehwal first came onto the international badminton circuit, the media nicknamed her the ‘Sania of Badminton’, after the only Indian woman with a presence in the tennis arena, Sania Mirza. However, a few years down the line, there are obvious differences between these two ladies who’ve made inroads into a previously untamed territory. And not the least significant of these is the relative alienation of Nehwal by the same media which gave her the aforesaid title, perhaps because they know they’ve been proved wrong.
Though they’re the best in India, the level of their game is contrasting. Mirza is currently ranked 99 in the world by the WTA, and was number 27 when she was at the top of her game. On the other hand, Nehwal is the world number 8, and at 19 years of age her game is fast-improving, what with the legendary Pullela Gopichand coaching her. That doesn’t take credit away from Mirza, but it does say that, compared to the rest of their contemporaries, Nehwal is better at badminton than Mirza is at tennis.
And then there’s one thing that will always be associated with women in sports: glamour. It might be slightly unfortunate because it takes focus away from their game, and hardcore feminists might even feel offended if someone calls Mirza prettier than Nehwal. But since I am a guy, and since I have a general dislike for feminists, I’ll go on record saying that Mirza is sexier than Nehwal. But from an unbiased viewpoint, which is difficult because I still am a guy, Nehwal does look fitter and more athletic than Mirza, who sometimes looks bulky and unwieldy on field.
However, the glamour factor, when coupled with the relative popularity of tennis, means that Mirza recieved much more attention when she won a single round than when Nehwal won a championship. Nehwal, unfortunately has remained more of an unheralded queen of a distant land till very recently. However, with Mirza’s fitness deteriorating in sync with her game, the focus is slowly shifting towards her more successful compatriot in a different kind of court.
Saina Nehwal will not get the same kind of limelight Sania Mirza used to in her heyday, but it will only help focus on her game, which is going upslope. And needless to say, I’m a fan of this young woman, who has a bright future ahead of her. I wish her all the best.