It wasn't as dramatic as Aamir Khan's last second dash to win the cycle race and overall crown in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, but the script of the XIX Commonwealth Games' concluding tussle had enough edge of the seat action.
When home favourite Saina Nehwal took on Malaysia's Wong Mew Choo in the women's badminton singles final, it was not just the gold medal at stake. India's chances to finish second ahead of England also depended on the outcome of this encounter.The women's doubles combination of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa had helped the country restore parity with England when they defeated Singapore's Shinta Mulia Sari and Lei Yao to lift India's 37th gold. With England not winning a single gold on the final day, Saina had to win her match to put India ahead.
With a packed Siri Fort sports complex egging her on, a nervous Saina was almost on life support when Mew Choo earned her first match point at 21-20 in the second game. But the Indian kept her cool to draw level with a net kill and then staged a comeback to win 19-21, 23-21, 21-13 in one hour and 10 minutes.
“We were hoping that if we could win two gold, we could be on top. After Jwala and Ashwini won their final, it was my turn and I am very proud that I could bring India to the second spot," said Saina, the first Indian woman to win a singles gold.
Prakash Padukone (1978) and Syed Modi (1982) had won the men’s singles gold while Aparna Popat faltered in the 1998 final.
However, all that looked improbable for the first 45 minutes when the world No. 3 was looking to hit everything coming her way for a winner and Mew Choo frustrating her with a solid defensive strategy.
“I was very nervous and so I was hitting everything,” she added after beating Mew Choo for the fifth time in a row this year.
Saina only managed to get her act together by the end of the first game and the strategy worked for the first half of the second game. But with a lot at stake, the 20-year-old Saina again started making mistakes and that allowed the Malaysian an opportunity to earn her first match-point.
“At that point, I told myself that I had nothing to lose, " said Saina, about the winner that brought her into the match.
The decider was a cakewalk with Saina’s superior fitness making the difference.
Jwala-Ashwini create history
Earlier, Jwala and Ashwini got their names etched in the record books by becoming the first Indian doubles combination to win a CWG gold with a 21-16, 21-19 win over the top seeds. Ami Ghia and Kanwal Thakur had won bronze in the 1978 Games. Malaysia won the other three gold medals, with Kien Keat Koo bagging a triple crown.