(The Bridge is now on WhatsApp. Subscribe to stay connected to the Indian Sporting Ecosystem.
Click here & hit the SEND button.)
An unuttered zeal was noticed in her eyes when Saina Nehwal took the court at the packed Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre in Gold Coast, where she was facing her fellow Indian challenger, P V Sindhu, vying for the coveted gold medal at the Commonwealth Games 2018.
Despite consistently being among top rankings of women’s singles badminton and accomplishments including a bronze at Olympics, the World No. 1 ranking, 10 Superseries titles among others, for Saina, winning the title implied the satisfaction of regaining the gold back, taking back the mantle of being India’s best player after Sindhu had overtaken and proving her critics wrong.
Capitalising on her experience and better tactics, at 28, nine years after her first Superseries glory, she emerged as the winner by 21-18, 23-21 to claim her second gold medal in singles, further adding to the one she won at home in New Delhi in 2010.
Almost a year later, Saina has again pulverised her way to overcome a stern challenge by beating China’s He Bingjiao 18-21, 21-12, 21-18 to enter the women’s singles final of the Indonesia Masters 2019 on Saturday. After trailing in the first game, the eighth-seeded Saina Nehwal came from behind to take the match in 58 minutes. On Sunday, she will face Spain’s three-time World Champion and reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin – her traditional rival – in another epic final.
Saturday was Saina’s first-ever meeting with the 21-year-old Bingjiao in the international circuit. In the first game, though Saina played better, she saw a downfall after taking the 18th point. The second game saw Saina pulling away doubling the lead at 6-3 and going on to win the game. The decider saw an exciting contest as both Saina and Bingjiao kept taking slim leads till the 16th point before the Indian took the lead from there on and closed the match with a 21-18 win.
Saina’s tryst with Istora Stadium
#Badminton | Queen of Istora 👑 – Saina Nehwal
In Istora, Jakarta indoor stadium:
🥇🥇 – Indonesia Open Super Series
🥇 – Indonesia Open Super Series Premier
🥈 – Indonesia Open Super Series Premier
🥈 – World Championship
🥈 – #IndonesiaMastersSuper500
🥉 – Asian Games pic.twitter.com/y4KEABY0zt
— The Bridge (@TheBridge_IN) January 27, 2019
The Istora Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, holds a sweet spot in Saina’s heart. It was here; she became the first Indian to win a BWF Superseries title in 2009 when she beat Chinese Wang Lin in the final 12–21, 21–18, 21–9 to earn the honour. The feat was repeated in 2010 against Sayaka Sato and in 2012 against Li Xuerui, while she finished as the runner up in 2011 against Wang Yihan. It was here in 2015, Saina conceded to Carolina Marin to settle with the runner-up finish at the BWF World Championships. Saina even reached the final of the Indonesia Masters 2018, where she lost to Tai Tzu-Ying.
Setting the trend
Throughout her entire career span, Saina has been nothing short of a trailblazer. She was the first Indian female shuttler with whom a whole nation began to weave big dreams in the sport. She was the first one, who created a dent in the Chinese supremacy of badminton and has kept India a constant in the world’s top 10, a feat which is shared by Sindhu as well.
Presently, having a BWF ranking of nine, Saina is the oldest player in the game to be staying in Top 25 of the World Rankings. Saina has battled her way through highs and lows, where she stood strong through several impediments. She let nothing to come between her from being strong and giving the best shot each time she steps on the court. After disappointing defeats in the 2016 Rio Olympics owing to injury, or the French Open in 2017, she bounced back to clinch the gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Her consistency has been witnessed through her indomitable spirit, her confidence, and her unwavering focus on the game.
Her pathbreaking journey
So far, Saina has won ten of her seventeen finals. pic.twitter.com/tutXx7IkwG
— The Bridge (@TheBridge_IN) January 27, 2019
Saina burst into the scene in 2006, when she drew the country’s attention by becoming the first Indian shuttler to win the Philippines Open. Aged 16, she entered the tournament as the 84th seed and went on demolishing several top-seeded shuttlers on her run to the final, which included Malaysia’s Julia Wong Pei Xiang and also Xu Huaiwen, a number four. She also stood as the runner-up in 2006 BWF World Junior Championships, where she lost to a much experienced and top-seeded Wang Yihan.
In 2008, she became the first Indian woman to reach the Olympic Games quarterfinals, where she lost to the world no. 16 Maria Kristin Yulianti in a hard-fought three-gamer. In the same year, she won the Yonex Chinese Taipei Open and was named “The Most Promising Player” of 2008.
After a disappointing 2011, with defeats at Malaysia Grand Prix, the Korea Open, Singapore Open, Thailand Open GP and Indonesian Open Superseries Finals, she scripted a comeback the next year winning the Swiss Open and the Thailand Open Grand Prix in 2012. In the same year, she became the first Indian woman to clinch an Olympics medal in badminton and only the second to win any medal after Karnam Malleswari. She finished the London Olympics bagging the bronze medal and rounded off the year by winning the Denmark Open Super Series Premier.
In the next few years, Saina cemented her status as India’s most exceptional badminton player and won the Indian Open GP, Australian Open SS.
Apart from the Commonwealth Games in 2018, she became the first Indian woman to win an Asian badminton medal at the Jakarta Asian Games. She also reached finals at Denmark, Indonesia Masters and Syed Modi International last year.
Despite age being a concern for Saina’s achievements in the coming days, she will always be the poster girl for Indian Badminton. On every single occasion, she will walk into the court with her relentless zeal to showcase her best. Her marvellous achievements have made badminton, one of the most popular games in the country. India owes immensely to a sporting figure like Saina Nehwal for being considered today as a badminton powerhouse.