From Melbourne to Delhi, Saina’s eventful journey (Profile)By Avishek Roy, IANS
Thursday, October 14, 2010
NEW DELHI - Life has turned full circle for badminton World No. 3 Saina Nehwal. It all started at Melbourne Commonwealth Games four years ago when she had her first big break at the expense of then national champion Aparna Popat. Here she is, making history winning the gold medal Thursday at the Delhi Games.
As Saina stood on the podium wearing the gold medal around her neck and singing the national anthem with the national tricolour slowly going up, the capacity crowd at the badminton hall of Siri Fort Sports complex gave her a standing ovation.
For Saina the four years between the two Commonwealth Games were the most productive, overcoming the challenge of all those Chinese, Malaysians, Indonesians and the Europeans to get this far.
Yet, it could have ended in case of so near and yet so far if only her opponent Mew Choo Wong converted the match point. Saina was unruffled — and it was the Malaysian who choked. Saina forced the decider after missing one game point. The pumped fist and the ‘come-on’ cry sent a clear message to Mew that Saina would not give her another chance to get out of jail.
In Melbourne, Saina was an unknown player, a 16-year-old looking at the world wide-eyed, not knowing what is in store for her. And when she got that window of opportunity, she grabbed it with both hands and announced her arrival on the big stage. She shocked some of the top players of world badminton and led India’s charge to bronze medal victory. It was her first big success.
After the Melbourne Games, there was no stopping Saina. She entered the Delhi Games as the top seed and was favourite to win the gold.
In these four years, Saina has moved up the international charts at a breathtaking pace often surprising herself and breaking new barriers. Her mental toughness and the never-say-die attitude have made her one of the most feared opponents in world badminton, one who can challenge the Chinese with self-assurance.
Saina grew in confidence after her stupendous show at Melbourne and the same year she created history becoming the first Indian woman to win a 4-star tournament the Philippines Open where the unseeded Indian stunned several big guns including top seed Huaiwen Xu and Julia Xian Pei Wong of Malaysia for the title.
She was soon making into the pre-quarters and quarterfinals of big events with relative ease even as the badminton world was coming to terms with the Indian’s toughness. Her rankings soared high.
In 2008, Saina won the Chinese Taipei Open Grand Prix Gold, gold at the youth Commonwealth Games and became the junior World Champion, having lost in the final in 2006.
She missed an Olympic medal by an whisker when she lost the quarter-final at Beijing against Maria Kristin Yulianti of Indonesia, though she was the first Indian woman to reach that stage.
She fought back and was more determined to achieve success, ending the year with a semi-final appearance in the Super Series Masters finals. She also entered the top-10 the same year.
Saina carried on her form to the next season. She won her first Super Series tournament - Indonesia Open in 2009. She also won the Indian open Grand Prix and made it to the semi-final of the All England Super Series. She lost in the quarterfinals of the World Badminton championship at Hyderabad after falling ill just before the start of the tournament.
This year Saina has been in hot form, winning three back-to-back tournaments. She first won the Indian Open Grand Prix Gold and then annexed the Singapore Open Super Series and the Indonesia Open Super Series. That crowned her the world no 3. She lost in the quarter-final of the World Championships. She was also awarded the Khel Ratna this year.