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Ups & downs in S-sister act

Hyderabad, Sept. 15: She’s a teen sensation, she’s India’s best hope in a racquet game, she’s from Hyderabad. And she has a name that only adds to the feeling of déjà vu.

No wonder Saina Nehwal was always getting mistaken for Sania Mirza.

Then the 16-year-old shuttler decided to end the confusion — by making her CV look even more similar to Sania’s.

She became the first Indian woman to win a major badminton event, the Philippines Open, in May just as Sania had been the first to win a WTA title.

“There were many confusions with Sania because our names and everything else (including height) are similar. But now they recognise me as the Saina of badminton and not the Sania of tennis,” Saina grins after a hard session at the P. Gopichand badminton academy here.

The career paths don’t look all that similar, though. As Saina’s good runs in the recent Korean and Hong Kong Opens have lifted her ranking to 30 from 89 four months ago, Sania’s has fallen from 34 to 70 this year. “My aim is to reach the top ten by the year-end,” says Saina. “I think Sania is doing very well and I want to do the same in my sport.”

The tennis star couldn’t agree more. “I’ve a lot of years to play yet. A few defeats will not push me to the brink,” she said at a Lotto footwear show here today.

“We all have ups and downs. My forehand is still the best. That’s why I’m always bogged down by others with their (hitting to my) backhand. I’ll size up to them soon.”

She had a surprise for the media. In her designer jeans and a denim coat, she did an impromptu catwalk and then stood still in her Lotto wear, posing for the cameras.

Which is one arena where “Saina” doesn’t spell as much success as “Sania”. The shuttler hasn’t a single sponsor.

When Sania hit the headlines in 2002, GVK industries rushed to fund her training abroad. She now has some 15 sponsorship deals, with firms ranging from Bharat Petrol to Malabar Gold.

Saina shrugs philosophically: “Badminton is a poor sister of tennis in India.”

But even that could change; the ball — er, shuttle — is in her court.

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