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The fire burns on after bronze

india Updated: Aug 05, 2012 02:25 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Saina Nehwal

Saina Nehwal wore purple instead of the regular black for her bronze outing. Perhaps she had a premonition that she would be joining the royal league of Olympic medallists; there was no need for the colour of mourning.

Wang Xin was the dominant player in the first half of the opening game. The left-hander has a lot of 'feel' in her stroke production. She weaves a mesmerising array of shots that had Nehwal lunging back and forth more in an effort to retrieve than attack. After 6-6, the 27-year-old Chinese notched eight points on the trot.

Nehwal seemed powerless against her skill and seemingly magical ability to change the direction of the shuttle at will.

Long semis match But the Indian camp knew that the Chinese had had a really long match of 49 minutes in her semifinal against compatriot and eventual gold winner Li Xuerui.

The tournament average for the women's singles matches is 36 minutes. Even her quarterfinal triumph had been earned in 64 minutes. Nehwal's strength, according to her coach Pullela Gopi Chand, is that she gets better as a contest wears on. The plan was simple — wear down the Chinese, keep her on the run.

Even in the warm-up, Xin shadow practised rushing up to the net, her intent was clear. She looked to keep things short and quick. On the other hand, the Indian wanted to keep rallies going.


As the first game wore on, the edge seemed to wear off the Chinese's incisive strokes. Leading 20-14, she was struggling to close out the game as Nehwal tenaciously kept pushing the shuttle back, making her move that extra bit which seemed to be pushing her away from her comfort zone.

It was the same game plan that the Indian had attempted to enact even in her semifinal, there she had been blown away by the furious pace of Wang Yihan. But here she clung on tenacious.

The Chinese was looking worn out by the end of the first game and one got the feeling that this contest was not done yet.

A game left knee, after a collapse, as she back-pedalled furiously to pluck a deep Nehwal placement, ended the argument.

Nehwal is quite unforgiving on herself. In the post match press conference the Indian would hardly revel in her win. Instead, she kept talking about how she was so disappointed about losing her semis; about how she had come here to play for the ultimate prize. Such humility is rare in Indian sport, as is the hunger to not be satisfied with third-best.

Grace in victory
Then, there was the grace in victory. First the Indian went up to the Chinese to console her on her misfortune, she then turned to the sizeable Indian crowd to smile and wave her thanks. Interspersed with that was a certain cockiness, which is essential for each winner.

“I think I am the only one the Chinese are scared of.” This bit is crucial.

She hardly appeared to be the first Indian ever to gain an Olympic medal in her sport.

"I have never won a match this way ever since I started playing tournaments at the age of nine. For it to happen at this level was strange. I really didn't know how to react" she said later.

This woman heralds a revolution in Indian badminton. She is only 22, greatness yet beckons.