Shuttler Saina Nehwal gave India its maiden Olympic medal in badminton after China’s Xin Wang retired hurt from the bronze medal play-off despite winning the first game at the Wembley Arena here on Saturday.
Wang took the first game 21-18 and was leading 1-0 in the second when she decided that she could not carry on with the right knee injury that she picked up after a heavy landing at the end of the first game. However, World No 5 Saina, who became the third Indian to win a medal from the 2012 London Games, said she was confident of beating the Chinese.
“I had trained hard and there was a lot of expectation. I initially thought that she was just taking rest as she was tiring, but then I realised she was injured. It’s sad that she got injured, but I was confident of beating her as I was coming into rhythm,” Saina said. Though Saina, seeded fourth, took off well with exquisite defensive shots in the first game, the Chinese recuperated in no time to equalise at 5-all. Thereon, it was a Wang-dominated game all the way and the Indian could not match her pace making many errors.
Wang, a former World No 1, constantly caught Saina on the backfoot and the Hyderabadi could not pick her cross-court smashes nor her drops at the net. Saina fought back at the end of the first game after Wang reached game point (20-14). The 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist then saved four game points to make it 18-20.
But the Chinese landed awkwardly while hitting a smash, and fell on the floor writhing in pain. Though, she won the first point in the second game, she again dropped in pain. A thunderous roar greeted Saina when it was announced that she had won the bronze medal and Wang had retired. “I still can’t believe that I have won a medal. In badminton, I never believed that India could win a medal because the competition is so tough. It is a dream come true for me,” said Saina. “I had never won a match like this before. Maybe, the medal was written for me,” she signed off.
Meanwhile, Chinese third seed Li Xuerui stunned top-seeded compatriot Wang Yihan 21-15, 21-23, 21-17 on Saturday to win the women’s badminton singles gold.
1 Saina is the first Indian to win an Olympic bronze.
2 Number of Indian players to win three international badminton events in a row. Prakash Padukone was the first, with victories at the All-England, Swedish and Danish Opens in 1980 followed by Saina Nehwal with superb wins at Indian Open at home as well as Singapore Open and Indonesia Open in 2010.
3 Number of consecutive titles bagged by Saina – the first Indian woman to accomplish this rare feat.
5 Number of Super Series titles bagged by Saina to become the first Indian shuttler to do so.
21 Number of career titles pocketed by Saina Nehwal so far. Details of victories in chronological order: Czechoslovakia Junior Open in 2003; Asian Satellite Badminton in 2005; Philippines Open & again Asian Satellite Tournament in 2006; Indian National Championships & National Games in 2007; Yonex Chinese Taipei Open, Indian National Championships, Commonwealth Youth Games & World Junior Badminton Championships in 2008; Indonesia Open & Syed Modi Memorial International India Grand Prix in 2009; Indian Open, Singapore Open, Indonesia Open, CWG & Hong Kong Open in 2010; Swiss Open in 2011; Swiss Open, Thailand Open & Indonesian Open in 2012.