Was Saina Nehwal's early exit from the Syed Modi Memorial badminton championship planned?
It seems so, as she conceded her first-round match in just 29 minutes despite pocketing the first game 21-17 and leading the second 20-18 against Russia's Ksenia Palikarpova.
Saina approached the chair umpire and told him that her knee was hurting. After a brief chat with the technical chair, she waved to the crowd and left the court.
Earlier in the day, the London Games bronze-medallist had reportedly convinced the organisers to reschedule her match because her return flight ticket was booked even before she took the court against the Russian opponent.
The big question
What puzzled the organisers and fans alike was the fact that she didn't even ask for a physio. "My knee wasn't fit, so I decided to concede the match despite being in a winning position," said the world No 3.
"This (the knee) has been a major problem since long. Today, I didn't tape it. I feared that if I continued playing, I would have aggravated the injury," she added.
Saina was first troubled by the knee problem during the India Open in Hyderabad in 2010, and she pulled out a day later. Since then, apart from the 2010 Commonwealth Games, she has only played in the Super Series in India, and has pulled out from all other tournaments here citing injury.
Saina had been exempted from playing in the national championships for a year before the London Olympics, but she pulled out of the Nationals in Srinagar (Sept-Oct this year) as well, citing injury.
Then why did she agree to play in the Syed Modi Memorial knowing well that her injury could flare up?
"My physio had told me not to put pressure on the knee, but I chose to play here because I wanted to play at all cost," said Saina, refusing to be drawn into the controversy whether she had been 'pressurised' to compete.
On Tuesday evening, as reported in HT, Saina had surprised everyone by deciding to play in the tournament after signing a deal with a leading sponsor, giving rise to speculation that there was more to it than a shuttle making contact with the racquet. Hours before, Saina had told HT that she was not keen to play.
Saina, after her early exit, also lost the opportunity to earn Rs. 25 lakh. "We had planned to felicitate her after the final and hand her a cheque of Rs. 25 lakh," said Badminton Association of India (BAI) secretary, Vijai Sinha.
A senior BAI official said the time had come for the federation to constitute a team of doctors to examine Saina. "If she isn't fit, she shouldn't be allowed to play in international competitions as well," said the official on condition of anonymity.
Coach P Gopichand said, "I wanted her to play in Lucknow. But the season was long and demanding. There was a persistent problem in her foot."