Saina Nehwal or PV Sindhu: The G.O.A.T is finally crowned?
Although this is a never-ending battle, the day has finally come to reach the conclusion of this debate and pick one - PV Sindhu or Saina Nehwal as the G.O.A.T.
What does it take before somebody can be called the greatest of all time - the G.O.A.T, as we are told in the parlance of sports? I'm sure there will be a mixed set of criteria on offer and countless opinions and perspectives but a couple of things that bind it all together perhaps is consistency and champion-like spirit, in the correct proportions.
As PV Sindhu went on to create history by becoming the first Indian woman to be a double medallist at the Olympic Games as she won a bronze at the Tokyo Olympics to back up her silver from the 2016 Rio Games, the GOAT debate stirred afresh. For the longest time, Indian badminton has been toying with this question - PV Sindhu or Saina Nehwal, who should it be, where should the crown finally rest, who deserves it more?
To take the safest route out of this debate early-on in this would be perhaps to not dilly dally between PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal but instead, place it on Indian badminton itself, which has emerged as the real superstar. Growing in leaps and bounds, India has been dedicatedly producing champion shuttlers who have it in them to play against the very bests of the world and give them a run for their money.
Earlier, badminton was considered as the all-Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean and Japanese dominated sport but slowly and surely, India, too has found its way in this list and with the two poster girls of Indian badminton - PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, India has cemented its name in badminton history forever.
Just like tennis has its endless tussle with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, closer home, Indian badminton finds itself in quite the spot in trying to decide who is more deserving of the crown - the veteran Saina Nehwal or the young-blooded PV Sindhu?
Yet the G.O.A.T crown has become restless, it needs a head to rest upon especially after PV Sindhu's majestic win of the bronze at the Tokyo Olympics and therefore a judgement does need to be passed. While the senior Saina Nehwal is definitely the trusted warhorse of Indian badminton and has been the torchbearer of the sport, it is with PV Sindhu that badminton in India has scaled to unprecedented heights and tasted a flurry of international success with top-notch consistency.
Therefore, PV Sindhu, with 2 Olympic medals - a bronze and a silver tucked in her bag, is acting as a magnet, thanks to all the hardware she has accumulated and is automatically drawing the G.O.A.T crown to herself and we, cannot help but realize how impeccable she is as the perfect candidate for the crown to safely rest, for a long time now, no doubts whatsoever. The only niggling factor remains that unlike Saina's climb to the perch of the top of the table was egged on by Gopichand, Sindhu is yet to reach that pole position and leave no chinks in her armour as the G.O.A.T.
The legacy of Saina Nehwal
It was with Saina Nehwal that the country began to sit up and take proper notice of badminton as this gutsy Haryanvi went on a spirited quest to fetch glory for India in the fastest racquet sport in the world. Known for her powerful smashes and admirable mental strength, Nehwal started causing much uproar in the Junior circuit before she found herself winning the Philippines Open in 2006, a 4-star tournament, a feat unachieved previously by any Indian. At her debut Olympics in 2008 at Beijing, Saina Nehwal burst into the quarter-finals before losing within sight of a maiden medal at the Games.
However, this was only the beginning of her reign as Nehwal stomped around to bag India's first BWF Super Series title in 2009 and followed it up with a gold medal win at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
In 2012, Nehwal created Olympic history by becoming the first Indian badminton player and a female at that, to win a maiden medal in the sport when she picked up the bronze in London. Fighting off Denmark's Tine Baun, Nehwal found herself in the semi-finals against China's Wang Yihan. Although she lost that encounter, she earned herself a place to battle it out for the bronze against yet another Chinese, Wang Xin. The stars conspired for Nehwal on that day as Xin, hurt herself badly mid-match and had to discontinue, retiring after winning the first game and the first point of the next. Saina Nehwal automatically got a walk over and clinched the first medal for India in badminton in the form of a glistening bronze.
In 2015, Nehwal cemented herself at the top of the BWF rankings when she became the World No. 1 - the first Indian to do so. With 24 titles to her credit currently, Nehwal is a feared opponent on court. However, a lot of injuries have punctuated her well-decorated career as well. A 3-time Olympian, the 31-year-old star shuttler will always remain as the person who transformed the landscape of Indian badminton.
The rise and rise of PV Sindhu
A former World No. 2, PV Sindhu has completely changed the face of the game. Tall and lanky, this feisty Hyderabadi is also a former pupil of Pullela Gopichand and is currently trained by Korea's Park Tae Sang and has quite a number of glittering successes to her credit - furthering her contention for the G.O.A.T title. PV Sindhu announced her arrival to the world when she bagged a bronze at the 2013 World Championships, indicative of the better days to come.
In 2014, Sindhu repeated her bronze feat at the World Championships once more and found her way to Rio in 2016. In incredible form, PV Sindhu played aggressively yet passionately and stormed past the likes of Michelle Li, Tai Tzu Ying, Nozomi Okuhara to set up a delectable gold medal clash against arch-rival Carolina Marin in the Olympic finals.
In a gruelling affair of 1 hour and 23 minutes, PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin fought tooth and nail over three tight games before the Spaniard prevailed and PV Sindhu created history by winning the first silver medal for India at the Olympics in badminton. In 2019, PV Sindhu added yet another feather to her cap when she finally undid the jinx and clinched the World Championships crown in Basel by defeating Japan's Nozomi Okuhara.
At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a revamped PV Sindhu arrived on the courts of the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza. This was a Sindhu unafraid to play at the net and less jittery about her backhand, she had more control over the matches and quiet composure during points which were punctuated by loud cries every time she bagged a difficult point - but all in all, Sindhu was calm yet explosive at the Games.
Given her form, it almost felt like the gold medal should simply walk up to her doorstep but it was not to be as Tai Tzu-ying played spoilsport and hindered her gold medal dreams. However, not losing heart or form, Sindhu came in all guns blazing at the bronze medal match and was purely ruthless to begin with against China's He Bingjiao. Needing 53 minutes to settle the matter and create history and rightfully coronate herself as a 2-time Olympic champion and the G.O.A.T as well, PV Sindhu did it in style - a cross-court smash and a loud roar to announce that she is indeed, the reigning Queen and she is here to stay!