When Saina Nehwal changed the landscape of Indian badminton in London, back in 2012
Prior to the year 2012, Indian badminton had seen many memorable moments on the international stage, albeit not frequently. While the popularity levels of the sport had not reached anywhere close to cricket, supporters of Indian sport were aware of the exploits of our shuttlers in global competitions.
However, the London Olympics that year were to change the landscape of Indian badminton forever. A total of 5 shuttlers had made the cut for the Games in the British capital and while not many gave the contingent a real chance to return with a medal, not everybody ruled out the possibility either.
As it turned out, during the course of the fortnight, it proved to be a watershed Games for the sport.
Parupalli Kashyap scripted history by becoming the first Indian Men’s Singles player to reach the quarterfinals. Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa were very unfortunate to miss out on a medal, getting eliminated at the same level albeit in controversial circumstances.
But all the events were only starters. The main course was still left and when it arrived, it came with a cherry on top.
Saina Nehwal had already experienced the pressure of featuring in a Summer Games, having taken part in Beijing in 2008 and entered the quarterfinals. But in London, she wanted more. She wanted the real deal. A medal.
After sailing past the group stages, the Indian was up against Yao Jie of Japan and defeated her opponent in straight games.Next up was Tine Baun of Denmark and here too the Indian was the dominant player, winning in straight games 21-15 22-20 to enter the semifinal stage of the competition.
However, on the biggest day of the competition until then, Saina failed to raise her game and lost to Wang Yihan of China 21-13 21-13, thereby losing her opportunity to win either the Gold or the Silver.
The Bronze was still up for grabs,however, and, on her way to that was another Chinese player- Wang Xin- an opponent against whom she had a 2-3 record, prior to the clash.
The omens didn’t look good for the Indian as her opponent showed why exactly she had the edge over her in competitions, leading the Indian, at most intervals.
The turning point in the contest for the Indian arrived in not the most pleasant of manners. With 3 game point opportunities under her belt, Xin looked set to seal the game when in attempting a down-the-line winner, she twisted her ankle on the rear court line, falling down immediately in pain.
The tournament doctors arrived in no time to have a look at her left foot and after extensive treatment, she resumed the game with a bandaged left ankle.
She sealed the game on the first opportunity after the break, but it seemed evident that the momentum had shifted in the Indian’s favour.
The second game saw Xin take a 1-0 lead, but at that point, she suffered yet another blow to the ankle, this time, while striking a direct winner, when she fell down once again. The doctors intervened again and after a while, the inevitable happened.
For a moment, if you were a sports fan, the thought of this being an Olympic medal match might not have crossed your mind. For there was a touch of sadness associated with the way the match had concluded.
It was certainly evident on Saina’s face as she walked away without a touch of happiness noticeable in her face.
Once the disappointment faded away, the realisation beckoned on every Indian. Saina had become the first shuttler from the country to stand on the podium at an Olympics and a whole generation had a goal to achieve in the upcoming years.