Just about a month ago when Beiwen Zhang last came to India, she struggled to win a single match in the Premier Badminton League and even her teammates wondered whether the China-born shuttler, who now represents USA, was on the wane.
The world No 11 allayed all those fears on Sunday when she edged out India’s star shuttler PV Sindhu for the second successive time on the BWF circuit to clinch her first major international title of the year.
This is also one of the biggest titles the 27-year-old has won in a topsy-turvy career which has seen her move to from China to Singapore and then to USA.
“This is my first Superseries title (the India Open Super 500 was termed a Superseries in the earlier structure). Before I played PBL and didn’t win any match. And here I won everything,” said Zhang, unable to hide the elation.
The 27-year-old was the clear underdog going into the final against defending champion Sindhu and with the crowd behind the world championship silver medallist, it was clear that Zhang had to come up with something special to turn the tables on the home favourite.
And Zhang did come up with a game plan of suprising Sindhu with smashes whenever she got a chances and admitted that it was a conscious effort on her part. “I know my weaknesses and I try to cover a lot. When I got a chance, I was hitting smashes. Normally, if you watch my game, I don’t really smash a lot. I played like an attacking player today,” she said.
To her credit, Zhang implemented this strategy exceptionally well without the benefit of having a coach in her corner to help her in case things didn’t go according to plan.
“I’m used to it. I was without a coach for seven years,” she said when asked about the situation.
Zhang was part of the Singapore national team till 2011 and was touted to be their next big star when she decided to quit and move to USA after having a fall-out with the coaches.
For many years after moving to USA, Zhang trained in Las Vegas without a coach and a single sparring partner and shuttled between the two countries to train and play. She has now recently started training in Singapore with coach Luan Ching, who was part of their national setup earlier.
She, however, cannot still afford to travel with him and instead discusses her plans before every match on phone.
“My new coach gave me a lot of ideas. He pointed out the game clearly. So, it’s easier for me in my head what I need to do when my opponent is leading,” explain Zhang.
Apart from her coach, the other person who helped the 27-year-old in her quest for a title was Anand Kumar Dubey, a trainer cum physiotherapist who was part of the PBL team Mumbai Rockets which Zhang represented.
Dubey worked with the player on her rehab and strengthening as she is still recovering from a foot injury from last year.
“I couldn’t wear shoes for three weeks. I couldn’t wear slippers because my feet were swollen. It still hurts when I warm up but I have to play with it,” Zhang had said a few days ago.
She is now waiting to get her US citizenship that will make her eligible to play the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The 27-year-old, who had missed out on the 2016 Games as she was not eligible to represent US in the quadrennial event, can then hope for some funding from the US Federation and Olympic association. And the title here would only boost her chances of getting some much needed support.