Saina Nehwal takes her Beijing Revenge
From a heart break in Beijing to the bronze medal in London — the first for India in Olympics badminton, shuttler Saina Nehwal has come a long way in four years.
When the unseeded Saina beat fourth seed Chen Wang of Hong Kong to enter the women’s singles quarterfinals at the Beijing Games four years ago, hopes of India’s first Olympic medal in the sport soared.
However, there was big disappointment when Saina was stopped by Indonesia’s Maria Kristin Yulianti from entering the semi-finals.
Four years later, the script unfolded in a different way in London. The Saina of 2012 is a matured and feared opponent.
In fact her journey from Beijing to London has been that of sheer hard work, grit and determination compared to ‘conquering’ the Great Wall of China. She worked hard on her game, especially the mental part against the Chinese domination.
She wasn’t comfortable against top-ranked Chinese players. But Saturday when she took the court against former World No.1 and current No.2 Xin Wang, Saina was determined to break the jinx. Saina drew motivation from her win over Wang at the World Super Series final last year.
The 22-year-old Hyderabadi may be elated at getting the medal, but she did not get into any exaggerated celebration since the medal came in a way she never wanted to.
Wang retired hurt after winning the first game with a strained knee and forfeited the match.
Saina’s celebrations were missing. She hugged Wang to offer her sympathy and quietly walked off the Wembley Arena in a sombre mood with India’s third medal at the 2012 Games.
The ace shutter, who has already achieved so much in the sport, will showcase her bronze medal as the jewel in the crown. She also becomes the second Indian female Olympic medallist after weightlifter Karnam Malleswari, who won bronze at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Saina’s smile on the Olympic podium summed up her feelings as it has not been a smooth ride to the Olympics for the Hyderabadi.
After winning three Super Series events in addition to the Commonwealth Games gold in 2010, Saina hit a rough patch.
Last year she managed just one title — the third-tier Swiss Open Grand Prix gold after which she lost several tournaments as she could not find her form.
Her off-court problems also took a toll on her game. She had misunderstandings with national coach Pullela Gopichand that led to her below-par performance. Later, she had to withdraw from several tournaments due to an ankle injury that took several months to heal.
After all these setbacks, she regrouped herself single-mindedly in pursuit of her goal — an Olympic medal. Her relations with Gopichand improved ahead of the Olympics and the combination started working wonders.
She won the Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold in March followed by the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold in June. A week later she won her third Indonesia Open Super Series Premier in the buildup to the London Games.
The queen of Indian badminton has almost as many gold medals under her belt as her age including several Super Series events and the Commonwealth Games gold. She is currently ranked fifth in the world.
Saina is also a recipient of the country’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award which she won in 2010. Apart from being honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2009, she was also conferred India’s fourth highest civilian award, the Padma Shri.