Saina Nehwal couldn’t feel her legs, after beating compatriot PV Sindhu for the Commonwealth Games badminton women’s singles gold medal on Sunday. Her legs were dead, she said, after it took 56 minutes, to down her illustrious opponent in straight, albeit tough, games.
Pre-tournament, she had to work hard on her fitness. And, her arrival to Gold Coast was marred with an unsavoury controversy. So, mentally, too, it was perhaps tougher for the 2012 Olympic bronze-medallist to remain focussed. And, ahead of the singles event, she, in the absence of PV Sindhu, guided India to the gold medal in the mixed team event.
The gold medal on Sunday, hence, was special to her.
“I really term it as next to my Olympic medal and my world No 1 ranking. So I would keep it somewhere there. It’s a gift to my father and my mother, my country. It’s a very emotional moment for me after the disappointing loss in Rio due to injury,” Saina said.
Saina had a 3-1 head-to-head lead over Sindhu going into Sunday’s match and she ensured that the gap widened with a vintage performance.
“It was a neck to neck game for me, it was even tougher because I have been playing for the last 10-12 days. She is tall, she has longer legs and covers the court better than me, I have to run here and there,” Saina said of Sindhu.
“I lost five kgs in the last few months, that helps you move faster,” she added.
‘It’s a healthy rivalry’
Asked if playing against Sindhu in a big final like today was more of a mental battle than, she said: “You just have to play your game, it’s a healthy rivalry, people enjoy it, no doubt we are under tremendous pressure. But I am happy to be pulling these off. It’s not easy to play against someone who is ranked No 3 in the world now,” she said.
It was yet another final loss for Sindhu, who, in some quarters, gets criticised for being unable to pull off high-pressure games. Saina, however, defended her teammate.
“It happens in tough situations, it has happened with me as well. You can’t write like that about any player. Today, I fought well. I didn’t attack much because my stamina was finishing. I just wanted to finish off rallies. She was doing very well in rallies too,” she said.
‘One of my most exhausting campaigns’
Despite pulling off a brilliant win to end her Gold Coast campaign with a gold medal, Saina conceded that she played with minor niggles.
Asked about the bandage she was wearing, Saina said, “The shin problem happened in the team event and I am playing with that. It is not much of a problem, just two-three days of recovery is required. My match against Kirsty Gilmour went on for a long while and probably I aggravated the problem a bit.”
“It’s a challenging match for me. I would like to thank Gopi [Pullela Gopichand] sir for pushing me in the last three four months and Christopher, my physio, who is working hard on my body. I was facing a lot of injuries on my shin, ankle and he came up and gave me a very good rehab program which is helping my leg strength,” she said.
“[Today] the rallies were going long, she was picking up all the shots well. I am happy that I could pull off the bigger rallies. I have never played two weeks back to back so definitely it is one of my most exhausting campaigns.”
‘I don’t mind fighting for my dad anywhere’
Regarding the criticism she received for threatening to pull out of the Games over her father’s accomodation, she said:
“I don’t mind fighting for my dad anywhere. People have written that I put my dad first but it’s not the case otherwise I wouldn’t have won medals for my country.”
“Had I known I would have booked a hotel for him. He was given personal coach accreditation and after a long journey, I was handling this situation.”
“For two days, I was worried and didn’t even sleep... He was sitting outside the village for two days. He couldn’t even come in to the dining hall. What was the point of his coming here. It was a stressful situation but you have to fight it out.”
“The problem was I fought, people didn’t like I fought. Why wouldn’t I fight for my parents?”
(With inputs from PTI)