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Sport

The Black Horse that has Beijing nervous

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When it comes to Saina Nehwal, the Chinese media has a simple message for its readers: Beware of the Black Horse!

The term shows admiration and hints at a certain force that can out-gallop the best of Chinese challengers. Every time the Chinese media has used this phrase in the past two years, it has been to label Saina's various victories.

"Indian black horse is the toughest of challengers, and has emerged as a new idol for the Indian sporting world," wrote the widely popular Internet portal, sina.com in June 2009. The label stuck and over the past year several newspapers and websites have used the term liberally to describe Saina.
 
In China's badminton fraternity, there is real respect for her and her game. China's head coach Li Yongbo has described Saina as a "real opponent". So, what is it that the Chinese sports enthusiasts fear about Saina? Experts in China say her age is her special strength - she's 20. Wang Yihan, her biggest rival, is 22. Other Chinese challengers, Chen Jin and Zhao Yun Lei, are 24 and Lu Lan and Cheng Shu are 23.

Chinese players see Saina as a formidable rival. Even though Wang Yihan trounced Saina 3-0 in the Uber Cup quarterfinals last May, she admitted being nervous during the game. "I was nervous in the first set," said Wang, who had defeated Saina in the final of the 2006 World Junior Championships. "It was the first tough match that I had come into, which helped me to be more confident and well prepared for the upcoming matches," she added.

"It is exciting to see her in action. She has force and control. It won't be easy to keep her down," Wang Yu, a young girl playing badminton at Beijing's Dongdan stadium told TOI-Crest.

When Danish player Peter Gade compared Saina with Chinese players last year, his remarks were splashed across the media in China. "There are many excellent badminton players in India, especially Saina Nehwal, who is even more talented than Chinese players," he was quoted as saying by Beijing News.

In fact, the Chinese media has been actively covering Saina's games since the "baby-faced Nehwal" captured the Philippines Open at the age of 16 in 2006.

When Saina swept away China's Wang Lin at the Indonesian finals in June 2009, the country's head coach Li Yongbo said: "We sent our top women's singles players but they didn't win the title. It shows they were not in good form, and also that we have real opponents."

The official television, CCTV, lamented: "China's Wang Lin was on the losing end of some history, as she lost to Saina Nehwal who became the first Indian to win a Super Series title."

Internet blogs maintained by Chinese shuttlers Chen Jin, Zhao Yun Lei and Lu Lan that list rankings of international players feature Saina and her photographs are splashed in several Chinese sports magazines and web portals.

Clearly, Saina Nehwal is making her presence felt - and not in India alone.

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