Saina Nehwal…and that elusive gold medal
For all her achievements, Saina is yet to win either the Worlds, Olympics or All England, all of which happen to be badminton’s flagship events. Winning either of these ensures a player’s name is mentioned among the pantheon of greats.
Saina settles for silver
Saina loses to Carolina Marin
Saina wins historic silver
These were some of the headlines that did the rounds on Indian television and websites since Sunday evening and splashed across our newspaper pages Monday morning.
For starters, Saina Nehwal was beaten in straight games by Carolina Marin in the women’s singles final of the BWF World Championships on Sunday.
However, the Indian media, as the above headlines indicate, appears to have projected the result as an act of benevolence from Saina, as if she let her opponent win.
Without doubt, the Indian ace turned in a great showing at the Worlds, but, fact is, she lost in the final!
Headlines like ‘wins silver’ don’t convey the right news as well. For you don’t win silver, you lose out on the gold. In the final there’s, always, one winner.
Such interpretation, besides undermining — rather being condescending — the achievement of the eventual champion, also attempts to camouflage harsh reality — that despite having played professionally for almost a decade now, Saina is yet to win any of the three major titles.
The bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012, Saina’s biggest achievement till this silver in Jakarta, was courtesy a withdrawal.
Whether Saina could have won that match is another debate altogether. The head-to-head record indicated otherwise. Besides, her opponent, China’s Wang Xin, had won the first game before retiring injured.
Even though it was only a third-place finish, it was enough to send the nation into delirium, something that has always been the case with the player.
Saina was under the spotlight ever since her junior years. Blame it on India’s lack of sporting heroes, the immense potential she displayed — and consequently high expectations, or both — her every victory was hailed as a milestone.
The media, at various times, eulogized her as the world’s greatest player, the only one who could beat the Chinese at their own game.
To her credit, though, she achieved much over the years.
From winning the Philippines Open in 2006, to the World junior title in 2008, the Indonesian Open Super Series title in 2009, the London Olympics, the two ‘finals’ and the top ranking this year, Saina has made considerable progress. Her results have offered a nation devoid of many sporting successes, hope.
However, there’s also another facet as regards her career, something that cannot be neglected.
For all her achievements, she is yet to make that major breakthrough and win either the Worlds, Olympics or All England.
Mind you, these happen to be the sport’s flagship events. It is triumphs in any of these tournaments that make a player’s career truly memorable and ensure his/her name is mentioned among the pantheon of greats.
Saina doesn’t have to look far ahead for an example/inspiration. No one would have remembered Pullela Gopichand, her former coach, had it not been for that All England triumph in 2001.
Truth be told, Saina, more often than not, succumbed under the burden of expectations and underperformed at both the All England and the Worlds… till this year, of course.
This March, the 25-year-old made it to the final at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.
In fact she was the favorite to win a maiden All England title going into the match. She had not lost in three matches to Marin, the last of those wins coming a month earlier, in the final of the India Open Grand Prix Gold.
She did start well, winning the first game convicingly. History beckoned. What followed thereafter was a collapse that is difficult to describe.
In Jakarta, suffice to say, she never had a chance.
Both the recent defeats to Marin — who has in fact, in a little more than a year, achieved almost everything the sport has to offer — only increased Saina’s wait for that elusive major title.
The road ahead will be tough. It’s not always that Saina won’t get to face a Chinese in the final. She’s getting older and as her reflexes slow down, the players she beats fairly easily at the moment, will get the better of her — just like she did in the case of her one-time nemeses Wang Yihan and Tine Baun.
However, amid all these there will be one reality that will continue to bite.
Till she manages to win one of those three big tournaments, she can’t (and won’t) be considered as one of the best shuttlers in history, sentiments of the many biased fans, and an even more biased media notwithstanding.
Again, Saina doesn’t have to look far ahead for an example/inspiration. There can be no better example than the legendary Prakash Padukone.