Nagpur: Saina Nehwal returned to the senior nationals after a decade and gave a master class in tenacity and retrieving ability to regain the crown in front of a 5000-strong crowd at the Mankapur Sports Complex on Wednesday.
Chants of ‘Saina Saina’ reverberated across the stadium as the 27-year-old clinched her third national crown fittingly by winning a magnificent rally – the longest of the match – with her trademark smash to beat PV Sindhu 21-17, 27-25 in 54 minutes.
“It’s a great feeling. Sindhu is world No 2 now and is playing really well. But I gave her a good fight and I am happy with the way I played,” Nehwal said after the match.
After a slightly delayed start due to the closing ceremony event and speeches, both the players needed sometime to get into their rhythm but the opening exchanges gave an indication of their game plans. While Nehwal was targeting Sindhu’s midriff with her smashes, the latter concentrated on catching her opponent with sharp drops and net dribbles.
Nehwal was first to get off the block when she opened a small 5-3 lead and knowing well that she was on the slightly advantageous side of the court, soon went on the offensive. She went for expansive smashes at the slightest of opportunity and they came off more often than not.
It looked like the 27-year-old would race through the game when she took 17-12 lead only to let go of the advantage with a few unforced errors. But she quickly got her act together and Sindhu hit a smash out to lose the opener 17-21.
Sindhu, the 2017 world championship silver medallist, began the second game on the offensive, winning the opening point with a smash-tap routine and held the advantage for a while as Nehwal took time to adjust to the conditions from the other end of the court.
But she quickly began engaging Sindhu in long rallies to counter the drops and drew level at 6-6 as her big down-the-line smashes were followed by a quick finishing shot. Sindhu tried to keep the trajectory of the shuttle downwards and went into the game interval with a three point advantage.
After trailing 14-18 at one stage, Nehwal was able to counter Sindhu’s game plan once again as she retrieved every drop and dribble to earn her first match point . She missed the opportunity on the first attempt and the intensity of the rallies just kept going up as no player was willing to give an inch to the other. Sindhu saved a series of match points to stay alive in the game.
But Nehwal finally closed the match on her sixth match point and let out a loud of cry of ‘come on!’ This was Nehwal was back to her best.
Double crown for Ponnappa
Earlier, Ashiwini Ponnappa bagged her first double crown of the senior nationals by winning the mixed doubles and the women’s doubles title.
Ponnappa first teamed up with Satwik Sairaj to get the better of top seeds Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy 21-9, 20-22, 21-17 and then combined with Sikki to defeat Sanyogita Ghorpade and Prajakta Sawant 21-14, 21-14.
Manu Atri and B Sumeeth Reddy regained the men’s double crown with a 15-21, 22-20, 25-23 win over Satwik and Chirag Shetty.