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Saina Nehwal vs PV Sindhu: Who is the better shuttler on paper?

Although it's unfair to begin comparing the two darling's of Indian badminton - Saina and Sindhu, yet facts do stare at us and point to the hairline difference they have.

Saina Nehwal vs PV Sindhu: Who is the better shuttler on paper?

Sohinee Basu

Updated: 16 Jun 2021 10:28 AM GMT

If we are to hold anyone accountable for the growth in popularity of badminton in India, two names are quick to float across - Saina Nehwal and Pusarla Venkata Sindhu. These two women have successfully managed to revolutionize the position of badminton in the nation. For a country that is known to count its rosary for cricket, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu ensured that we watch fixated, our hands clenched in desperate prayer as both Nehwal and Sindhu went for big kills. From the World Championships to the Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games and even the Olympics - both Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have been the cause of much celebration for India.

Although it is plain unfair to begin comparing the two darling's of Indian badminton - Saina and Sindhu, yet facts do stare at us. Sports isn't the kindest of businesses and especially those like tennis and badminton where there is no scope of a draw, a shared win. The court transforms into a battlefield and from it only one can emerge victorious.

Unlike the ever-raging futile G.O.A.T debate in tennis in trying to determine who is the best amongst Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, this one is closer home and perhaps, not so futile. While the difference might be that of a hairline, the statistics of the two players combined with their performances of late is enough to reveal the answer to this pressing question.

With PV Sindhu eyeing her second consecutive appearance at the Olympic Games in little over a month and Saina Nehwal, a 3-time Olympian already, let's take a look at who actually is the better of the two.

Saina Nehwal - the trusted pioneer of Indian badminton

Saina Nehwal

Intertwined with a lot of firsts, Saina Nehwal has stamped her name on the international badminton circuit and how. A former World No. 1, Saina Nehwal was the first Indian woman player to venture into the heavily guarded South-East Asian territory. As was showcased in her recently released biopic, Saina, starring Parineeti Chopra, the 31-year-old's characteristic trait is her boorish mental strength and obsessive dedication to be the best in the game. With a 'mar doongi' attitude, this Haryanvi player took the world by storm when she became the youngest Asian woman and of course, the first Indian to clinch the 2006 Philippines Open, a prestigious 4-star tournament.

Making the world sit up and immediately take notice of her, Nehwal decided to smash her way to the top of the order. Nehwal began to peak around 2008 when she started to frequent the deep stages of a tournament and also went on to collect titles. Becoming the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships title, Saina also moved ahead to claim her first BWF Super Series title at the Indonesia Open where she fought off Wang Lin, 12-21, 21-18, 21-9.

Fuelled by Olympic dreams in her eyes, Saina Nehwal, just 18, made her Olympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Games. In raging form, Nehwal soon found herself in the quarter-finals after she ousted Asian Games gold medallist Wang Chen. However, the path was not supposed to be so rosy yet as Maria Kristin Yulianti, an Indonesian veteran awaited the challenge of Nehwal. Despite putting on a brave show, Nehwal failed to inch closer to the elusive medal on that occasion, losing a tight match, 28-26, 14-21, 15-21.

"I don't know what happened. Maybe I made a lot of mistakes. I'll be much more prepared next time. I'll be much more experienced," Saina Nehwal had sworn after the defeat.

This was however just the trailer of what was to come as Saina Nehwal began to soar after this outing. Although her career has been punctuated by injuries and she has had to take time off the court, Nehwal has found a way to always bounce back and find her inner 'sherni' spirit.

Nehwal's triumphant moment of glory that made her an overnight success story in India was her historic Olympic bronze medal win at the 2012 London Olympics. Putting on a phenomenal show, Nehwal edged past Denmark's Tine Baun in the quarter finals in a tense encounter of 29 minutes to book a semi-final slot, 21-15, 22-20.

The recently crowned 2012 Thailand Open winner, Nehwal was obstinate about returning home with a medal - and the stars too conspired and enabled her to create history. Facing China's Wang Yihan in the semis, Nehwal failed to register a win and secured a bronze medal clash against yet another Chinese, Wang Xin. While Xin started strongly by winning the first game, 21-18, she soon suffered a bad fall and could not continue with the match, having to retire just as the second game began. And with that, Nehwal embraced history and became the first Indian woman and the first Indian shuttler to have won an Olympic medal in badminton.

Although the Arjuna Awardee has not been able to make the cut for the Tokyo Olympics as she is currently holding the World No. 19 spot on the BWF roster, she remains a true pioneer of the sport. Singularly inspiring a multitude of youngsters, especially girls, to pick up the racquet, Nehwal with her ample collection of 24 titles, 1 Olympic bronze, 2 World Championships medal - a silver and a bronze, 2 Asian Games bronze and 5 Commonwealth Games medals - 3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze has really paved the way for future Indian shuttlers.

PV Sindhu - the reigning poster girl of Indian badminton

PV Sindhu

Hailing from the same nation as another badminton great like Saina Nehwal and having her as a contemporary as well as a rival is perhaps not the best of things. For the longest time, PV Sindhu was overshadowed by the mass conquests of Saina Nehwal. While Nehwal led from the front foot, Sindhu trudged a step behind - carefully closing the gap till she stood at par and to be honest, has now left her rival behind and created a marginal distance between them.

With a majority of her career still remaining, PV Sindhu has picked up 15 titles already and most importantly has an Olympic silver medal and a World Championship crown to boast of. Breaking into the top 20 of the BWF circuit as early as 2012, PV Sindhu scripted her greatness by being the only second female shuttler apart from China's Zhang Ning to win at least five medals from the World Championships. Interestingly, Sindhu has always come back with a medal from the prestigious biennial tournament except in 2015.

PV Sindhu shot into limelight permanently after her sensational run at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Downing the likes of Michelle Li, Tai Tzu Ying, Nozomi Okuhara en route to the Olympic finals, Sindhu was on rampage mode at the Games. However, awaiting her at the finals was an European - the then World No. 1 and 3-time World Champion, Carolina Marin. Engaging in an equally physically and emotionally gruelling match against the Spaniard, Sindhu fell short of bagging the gold, losing 21-19, 12-21, 15-21 and had to settle for the silver - the very first for India in badminton.

PV Sindhu's story has been studded with big victories at big tournaments and her most recent exploit came at the 2019 World Championships. Finally managing to undo the silver jinx, Sindhu defeated Nozomi Okuhara in a mouth-watering final to crown herself as the World Champion - the first one to achieve this feat.

The lanky Hyderabadi shuttler known for her attacking style of badminton has quite a glittering collection of trophies and medals to her name. Also an Arjuna Awardee, Sindhu has also accumulated a silver each at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2018 Asian Games and also has 2 Uber Cup bronze medals to her credit.

Saina Nehwal vs PV Sindhu - a close call

PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, Picture Credit: AFP

Although Saina Nehwal still commands the head-to-head against PV Sindhu, having won everytime against the Rio silver medalist except once, it is Sindhu who fares better otherwise. Nehwal might have dominated Sindhu during her heydays, the last and most memorable of which came at the 2018 Commonwealth Games where Nehwal fired her way to a gold, winning 18-21 21-23.

Ultimately, it is PV Sindhu, lithe and flexible with aggressive tactics up her alley that is really the future of Indian badminton. Destined for even more greatness, the 25-year-old Hyderabadi player is a true inspiration. As she heads into Tokyo, the 2019 World Champion, will be eyeing only for gold and it will be difficult to play spoilsport to her plans.

Sindhu's game is far better rounded than Nehwal's and over the years, Sindhu, under the tutelage of Gopichand has perfected the art and has more tricks up her alley and has learnt how to take down the big names of the sport with ease. On the BWF circuit, Sindhu is a feared opponent and she shares quite the delectable rivalry with the likes of reigning Rio champion Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu Ying and Nozomi Okuhara, to name a few. Given her young age, Sindhu has a lot of steam left in her and a lot of tournaments to conquer and the future ahead is truly exciting for the World No. 7.

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