Saina Nehwal celebrates after defeating Tine Baun of Denmark at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. (AP Photo)
Thirty nine minutes are a blip in the history of a nation. Thirty nine minutes are all it took Saina Nehwal to create her own bit of history.
The woman with the pink shoelaces and matching hair clips is the first Indian to manage an Olympics badminton semifinal. Now, she has two matches to go. She wins either, we have a medal.
First up in the semifinals is the world No. 1 Chinese Yihan Wang who has got the better of her in their five last encounters. Nehwal has yet to figure how to unravel that particular riddle. Even if she loses she plays for the bronze.
But then this is a different Nehwal from the one that turned out at Beijing, far different. She walked out on court like she owned it, like she belonged.
If one looked for the sceptre of Beijing to haunt her - she had blown a 11-3 lead to squander her quarterfinal then - Nehwal did not show any outward signs. She strode out on court, thought her side of the net was a bit slippery and promptly asked for it to be wiped.
In fact, her opponent Tine Baun of Denmark, who at 33 is 11 years her senior, was the one who seemed to be flustered by the occasion.
The two-time All England winner got all the more worried as the match progressed as Nehwal refused to give her the pace she craves and kept the rallies going.
"The gameplan was to deny Baun short points as she likes the match to progress quickly," said Indian coach P Gopi Chand later.
Saina Nehwal beats Denmark's Tine Baun to storm into the semi-finals at the London Olympics. AP
Nehwal also dominated the net denying the 5'11" Dane the advantage to whack down any loose shots. The deft combination of soft short placements, mingled with deeper jabs, allowed the Indian to control the majority of the encounter.
Nehwal also went for the lines clear about her game plan of not letting the last European left in the draw to come anywhere near the net.
The sizeable crowd of Indian origin gave vocal support with cries of 'Jai ho' and 'India, India' to make it almost like an encounter on Indian soil leading Nehwal to remark: "I am glad the Olympics are in London as it feels half-Indian, there are just so many Indian people here and their support was a welcome boost."
If there was any doubt of Nehwal's maturity now, they were dispelled by the calm she displayed after a few line calls went against her.
In fact it was the far more experienced Baun who lost her cool when denied a call leading 20-18 in the second game. Nehwal did well to dig in and save three game points before wrapping up the issue 22-20.
Baun was quite put off by the call, "It happens all the time but at this level it can mean the difference between winning and losing and today it did."
Nehwal would have none of it, though: "I had five bad calls, while she is going on about only one."
As to whether the Beijing loss played on her composure at any time during the match, Nehwal laughed and said, "That was a torturous match that I can't ever forget but I have gotten over it."
She was realistic about her chances in the semis without sounding overtly confident.
"It's very, very difficult as the Chinese are strong opponents. We will both be under the pressure of expectations but I am not thinking about all that."
Sigh of relief
While during the match she hardly showed any extreme emotion, the Indian's relief was apparent as she sunk into a quick squat and banged the court surface in glee when the Dane failed to ford the net on the very first match point.
Earlier seen in her trademark shorts at most venues, Nehwal is now wearing a new dress with a frilly border, "Everyone likes it," she laughed.
"I am wearing it as the sponsors worked on it for a year!"
Her game, like her attitude, continues to be no-frills and basic with little room for flash. It's certainly working.
Congratulate Saina Nehwal