Saina Nehwal was at the mercy of the Chinese, but Lady Luck smiled on her. In an unexpected twist to the story, Saina won the badminton bronze in the women’s singles as Wang Xin of China retired with a painful knee while leading 21-18, 1-0.
It was indeed a bolt from the blue, and Saina could not believe she had won an Olympic medal, though she felt sad the match ended the way it did. Nevertheless, Saina became only the second Indian woman after weightlifter Karnam Malleswari in Sydney in 2000, to win an Olympic medal for India. She is the third Indian to win a medal in the London Games behind shooters Gagan Narang (bronze) and Vijay Kumar (silver).
After a hesitant start, with the short-built Chinese making a clutch of errors, giving Saina a 5-2 lead, there was a dramatic change in the flow of the match as the Chinese won 12 points to one.
Wang stepped up the pace and had such a good feel on the shuttle that she could drop it wherever she wished, giving no inkling to the Indian.
But the fighter in Saina came out as she slowly got back into the game — first with a drop and then winning a brilliant long rally — to make it 10-15. But the errors in Saina’s game continued even as the Chinese hurried her with a sharp game.
From 10-17, Saina did fight to make it 18-20 before the Chinese, going for a smash on match point, slipped and fell at the baseline.
There was quick medical attention, and Wang Xin returned after three minutes with her left knee taped, and promptly smashed a return to win the first game.
Wang wore a knee-cap above the tape to resume the contest in the second game. She delivered a successful drop with a return of serve to win the first point, but fell down in pain, unable to stand. It was evident it was all over, and the match ended after just 26 minutes.
Saina was concerned and moved to her opponent’s side, even as a wheel chair rolled in to take the Chinese for further medical attention.
Wang soon conceded the match much to the discomfiture of a strong crowd that was evenly divided between India and China.
There was a terrific atmosphere during the match, and it was a shame it had to end the way it did, but as coach P. Gopi Chand pointed out, there was no doubt Saina richly deserved the Olympic medal for her pioneering campaign for Indian badminton in the last four years after making the quarterfinals of Beijing as a smart 18-year-old girl with so much promise.
She may not have won a medal yet in the Asian Games, All-England championship and world championship, but Saina will definitely launch her badminton career into a different orbit with the confidence of an Olympic medal, the first for an Indian in badminton.