Saina Nehwal’s former coach Vimal Kumar paid tribute to his former ward’s fortitude which he says played a key role in fighting off career-threatening injuries.

Nehwal, who had suffered a shin injury late last year, won the Indonesia Masters title last Sunday after Olympic and world champion Carolina Marin withdrew from the final. The Spaniard damaged her ligaments early in the first game and was forced to withdraw from the contest.

Vimal Kumar backed Nehwal to win the coveted All England Championship in March. “She is definitely mentally the toughest,” Kumar was quoted as saying by PTI. “I will even give her edge over the men’s players; she is much tougher than all of them,” he added.

The former Indian player coached Nehwal between 2014 and 2017. The 28-year-old climbed to the top of the Badminton World Federation rankings under Kumar’s watch.

“She doesn’t think too much once she is on court, even if she has some pain. She will go all out and make it difficult for her opponents,” he said.

With Marin suffering a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament and world no 1 Tai Tzu Ying also recuperating from a wrist injury, Kumar feels Indian duo of Saina and PV Sindhu will have a great chance to end India’s wait for an All England title.

“It [Indonesia win] will give Saina a lot of confidence and can help her in All England Championship, she can target that,” he said.

“Carolina also might need five-six months to recover if the injury is serious. So, the All England will be wide open. Carolina and Tai Tzu Ying were favourites. So now Saina and Sindhu will have a big chance to win the title.”

Nehwal, who will turn 29 in March, is currently the oldest player in the top ten and Kumar highlighted the need to be smart with game. “She has had her share of injuries,” he said. “I was there with her at the Olympics. She was preparing well and suddenly it [the injury] came up. But subsequently, the way she came back, you have to give her credit.

“Now it is a question of training smart. She has a couple of years at the top and with the Olympics coming up, she would want to do well... I don’t want to go that far now but she can immediately think of doing well at the All England.”

Saina had aggravated her knee injury at the Rio Olympics and needed surgery and rigorous physiotherapy to return to the sport.

The London Olympics bronze medallist returned to win the Malaysia Masters in 2017, her last BWF title before she ended the two-year wait by clinching the Indonesia Masters last week. “It is a creditable performance from her,” Kumar said.

“I saw a few matches, I don’t know if she had the stamina to play at a good pace like Tai Tzu Ying and Carolina Marin as she was carrying a bit of injury. I don’t think she was in right shape but because of mental toughness she pulled through quite a few matches,” he added.

Last year, Saina had won her second Commonwealth Games title besides winning a bronze at the Asian Games and reaching the finals at Indonesia Masters, Denmark Open and Syed Modi International.