Why Saina’s bronze should be as celebrated as Sindhu’s silver
These are the best days of Indian badminton. Each year, the results have just got better and better and the BWF World Championships 2017 were yet another testimony to India’s growing prominence in the sport, as the home contingent returned with two medals—a silver and a bronze—for the first time in the 40-year history of the tournament.
And yet again, it was our shuttle queens P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal who made us proud at the world stage. Both the players’ performances were laudable; if Sindhu’s silver medal after fighting for 110 minutes against the diminutive Nozomi Okuhara was brilliant, Nehwal’s ability to hang on there to win a bronze was equally impressive.
The fact that Nehwal won a Worlds medal just months after recovering from a career-threatening knee injury was inspiring. Such was the degree of her injury—Achilles tendonitis—that she was unable to stand on her feet for a few days, the pain would make her cry at times, leading to her growing fear that this was the end of her career.
But a year after undergoing a surgery on her knee, she was standing on the podium of the World Championships. She was the epitome of grit and determination with a single-minded focus of return to winning ways.
And the former world no. 1 made this clear with her brilliant come-from-behind wins over Korean No. 2 seed Sung Ji Hyun and local girl Kirsty Gilmour in the pre-quarter-finals and quarter-finals, respectively. Nehwal surprised everyone with her repertoire of strokes; some deception and flicks being her latest weapons; and improved fitness level, which was missing in her game for a while now.
The semi-final defeat to 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Nozomi Okuhara 21-12, 17-21, 10-21 must be quite disappointing but she could be proud from the fact that she has regained her top level game that has challenged the best in the business in the past.
Nehwal reached her peak in 2015 where she also became the World No. 1 before winning the India Open and claimed silvers at the All England and World Championships. But the next two years saw her falling from highs to the lowest with the injury hitting her hard ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics. She was seen limping out of the tournament only to find herself in the hospital in the next few days.
The return after the surgery was tough, the pain troubled her during matches as her medical and coaching staff had to advice her to stay out of action. But the eagerness to perform again saw Nehwal returning to competition in January when she went on to lift the Malaysian Masters Grand Prix Gold title, her only win after a three-month injury lay-off.
But thereafter it took a lot time for her to regain overall fitness and gradually she improved, thanks to her coaching staff and physio. It could be noted that barring the Malaysia Masters title win, she failed to enter the semi-finals of any major event.
No spotlight, more focus
For Nehwal and Sindhu, the last one year has been contrasting. For the senior pro, whose ranking fell to 16, the year was more about preparation and gaining fitness until the result in Glasgow followed, while for the 22-year-old Sindhu it was a about growing in terms of rankings (career high world no. 2) and performance (titles at India Open Super Series and Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold).
She went on become country’s new shuttler queen owing to her fabulous Rio Olympics silver.
The time away from spotlight did help Nehwal to stay focused on her goals as she put all of her time on training both on physical and mental aspect. Coach Vimal Kumar too had said that being away from the spotlight would help Nehwal perform without pressure.
And certainly it did, as the 27-year-old dispatched some tough players including Sung before faltering to eventual champion Okuhara. Nehwal did try to match her relatively younger opponent but faltered in the end, owing to the Japanese player’s better fitness, strokes, court craft and fortitude which also saw one of the favourites, Sindhu, falling in the second longest ever women’s singles final battle.
The first mission accomplished, 2018 has tougher battles to tackle with the Commonwealth and Asian Games besides the Worlds the next big events, and Nehwal knows she needs to maintain her fitness and some more variation to her strokes to overcome her younger opponents; she is the oldest player in the top 20. For now, the country should equally celebrate the two medals these women have gifted us.