At 30, Saina Nehwal is in the Autumn of her career. The Hisar-born girl is synonym to badminton revolution in India. In recent years, her form with the racquet has dipped and she even ran into the risk of failing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. But with the Tokyo games getting postponed by a year, Nehwal now can make her fourth successive Summer Olympic games appearance.
In her professional career thus far, Nehwal has won 4 Super Series Premier, 7 Super Series, 8 Grand Prix Gold, 1 Grand Prix along with medals at World Championships, Olympics and Common Wealth games.
As a glittering career winds down it is time to look back at top-five memorable feats of her career.
Commonwealth Games 2010 Gold
Ten summers ago Nehwal became the first Indian woman to win a Commonwealth Games gold in badminton singles event.
In front of a packed Siri Fort Complex crowd, Nehwal beat Malaysia’s Mew Choo Wong 21-19, 23-21, 21-13 to clinch the gold medal.
Although Nehwal was favourite to win the final against Wong but she lost opening game 19-21. The loss in the first game only galvanised Nehwal’s resolve. The second game proved to be a cliffhanger as Nehwal survived a scare to save a match point and with the game 23-21. With momentum and a boisterous home crowd by her side, the deciding game proved to be the lopsided one as Nehwal won it 21-13 to win the medal.
Nehwal’s win was significant for another reason as well. The gold was India’s 38th gold at the games and it helped the hosts pip England to grab on the second spot on the medal tally.
Olympics 2012 Bronze
Saina Nehwal holds the record for being the first Indian shuttler to win an Olympic medal when she won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Nehwal achieved the feat against the then world No. 2 Chinese Xin Wang.
Nehwal who was mere 22 then, sailed through the Group Stages of the games. Nehwal first eased past Sabrina Jaquet of Switzerland winning 21-9, 21-4 and then registered a win over win over Belgium’s Lianne Tan 21-4, 21-14.
Nehwal’s dominating form continued in the knockout stages too.
The quarterfinal match against Chinese-born Dutch sensation Yao Jie proved to be a bit competitive but Nehwal kept a cool head and recorded a scoreline of 21-15, 22-20 to book her place in the semifinal.
In the semis, Nehwal met top seed Wang Yihan of China. Although, Nehwal tried her level best but it was the Chinese who emerged as the winner with a scoreline of 21-13, 21-13. The semis loss forced Nehwal to fight for the bronze medal against another Chinese.
The bronze medal match turned out to be the one of mixed emotions for Nehwal. The Indian lost the opening game 18-21 and was trailing 0-1 in the second. But Wang had twisted her ankle during the course of first game. Wang was unable to continue and Nehwal was declared as the winner.
With the bronze-medal win Nehwal etched her name in the annals of Indian sports history.
China open 2014 Gold
2014 had proved to be a fruitful year for Nehwal. Before entering into the China Open Superseries in November, the Indian had already won the Australian Super Series besides clinching the Syed Modi International Grand Prix Gold. Clearly form was by her side.
In the summit clash Nehwal faced Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi. The final was spread over 42 minutes and Nehwal emerged victorious 21-12 22-20. If the first game proved to be a lopsided one, the second was a closely contested one. Yamaguchi led 11-9 in the second game and Saina had to demonstrated immense resolve to claw her way back into the game at 14-14. The game ebbed and flowed as the scoreboard read 18-18. It looked like the match would be forced into a third game as Akane led 20-19 but a couple of long shots by the Japanese swung the match other way, sealing the title in the Indian’s name.
It was Nehwal’s sixth appearance at the prestigious tournament.
The tournament holds a special place in the history of Indian badminton. In the men’s singles final, Kidambi Srikanth had defeated Chinese star Lin Dan 21-19, 21-17 to clinch gold and complete a rare double for Indian badminton at a Super series event.
All England 2015 Silver
By 2015 Nehwal and her Indian colleagues had started to challenge the Chinese dominance more often. But in the summer of 2015, Nehwal had the chance to grab that one title which had long evaded the Indians.
By then, Nehwal had already pocketed an Olympic bronze and a Common Wealth Games gold. But by making her way to the final of the All England, Nehwal now stood a chance to emulate her long-time coach Pullela Gopichand. The Indian coach had won the Badminton’s oldest tournament back in 2001. And to highlight how rarely had the Indians had won the tournament, Prakash Padukone had achieved the feat 21 years before Gopichand.
Nehwal started the final against Spain’s Carolina Marin brilliantly winning the the first game 21-16. But Marin stormed back winning the second game 21-14. The The pressure of the finals and history probably got to better of Nehwal as he lost the third and the deciding game 7-21.
Although, Nehwal fumbled in the final to settle for a silver, this feat is one of the high points of Nehwal’s glittering career.
World Championship 2015 Silver
Six month’s after featuring in the finals of the All England, Nehwal and Marin met in another title decider. At stake this time was the World Championship gold.
Nehwal was at the cusp of becoming the first Indian to be crowned as the World Champion. But it wasn’t meant to be as Marin got the better of Nehwal once more.
Nehwal, who was then ranked world number went down 16-21, 19-21 to her numero uno nemesis from Spain in a match which lasted a minute short of an hour mark.
Nehwal had raced to an early lead in the opening game but Marin bounced back to lead 11-7 at the mini-break. The defending champion got stronger and wrapped up the game 21-16.
Again in the second game Nehwal held the advantage with a similar early advantage only to squander it. Marin pushed back hard to take the score to 13-12. Though Nehwal kept fighting hard to get back to 17-15 advantage, the Spaniard was in no mood to give up as she won the second game 21-19 and with that the title too.
Off the many firsts that Nehwal has against her name, this World Championship silver was a first too. Although, Nehwal lost the final, she had become the first Indian to win a silver medal at the World Championships.