The only regret Saina Nehwal has is that she could not live up to her pact with her father to be in the final of the badminton event here.
“Before leaving for London, all he said was ‘I want to see you in the final’”, revealed the bronze medal winner from Hyderabad. “That was not to be, but I am happy that I’ve won a medal for the country.”
The bronze came in somewhat peculiar circumstances with Saina’s opponent Wang Xin pulling out of the match with a leg strain shortly after winning the first game 20-18 and claining the first point of the second.
“Initially I thought she may have been trying to buy time to beat fatigue,” said Saina of Wang. “but then she said that she couldn’t continue. It was sad for her, but the momentum was with me.”
The tactic was to keep the rallies longer, which Saina started doing after a spate of unforced errors saw Wang Xin run up a massive lead in the first game. “We had worked out how to keep the points longer against her since she likes to finish off a point faster.”
Saina said that she was far more confident playing either Wang Xin or Li Xiureu since she had beaten both earlier. The mental block for her was world no. 1 Yihan Wang whom she had never beaten.
“I didn’t sleep well before the semi-final, brooding about playing Yihan, but on Friday night I slept well, no problems,” she disclosed.
Saina hoped that her bronze medal— and the performances this year— would inspire more youngsters, and especially girls, to take to the sport.
“Badminton in in reasonably good health in the country, but we can get better if we have more players. It can’t be only Saina versus China,” she added, chuckling at her own impromptu rhyme.
It is a view supported by her coach P Gopichand. “The issue is not whether we can breach the Chinese domination, but whether we have enough players to test them,” said the former All-England champion.
“At this level, badminton has become like chess because the Chinese have far more player resources. They can pick and choose someone for any situation because they have quality players in numbers,” he added.
Gopi too felt that the momentum had swung Saina’s way even before Wang Xin broke down completely. “Her record against Wang is good, and after she revised her tactics, she had come back strongly to put the Chinese under pressure.”
Gopi, whose squad has put in a very impressive performance at London, said that his association with Saina, despite the hiccup last year, has been a fantastic journey. He hoped that this medal would be the fillip that can make India a stronger power in the sport.