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'I was lucky today; the medal was waiting for me'

Last updated on: August 5, 2012 00:02 IST

'I was lucky today; the medal was waiting for me'

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Saina Nehwal is only 22, but she's already etched her name in Indian sports folklore. She gave the country its first medal in badminton at the Olympics by winning the women's singles bronze at the London Games on Saturday.

That feat also made her the second Indian woman to win an Olympic medal, after Karnam Malleshwari, who bagged a weightlifting bronze at Sydney in 2000. 

Nehwal, though, was fortunate to win the bronze medal play-off match against China's Wang Xian.

She lost the first game 18-21, but was handed the match after the Chinese retired following a knee injury. After the match, Saina revealed that she was disappointed at missing out on a place in the final, but is happy to return with a bronze from the Games.  

What does it mean to win an Olympic medal? 
I don't know; I still can't believe it that I won an Olympic medal. It is still unbelievable, because I cannot believe that India won a medal in badminton. We have worked so hard; Gopi Sir worked so hard, my parents and all my well-wishers back home in India. It's great and I am so happy that I could do this for my country. 

I came here this time to get a medal for India and I am happy that I won a bronze medal; it's great!


Image: Saina Nehwal of India stands with her Bronze medal
Photographs: Michael Regan/Getty Images

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'I thought she fell down to take a little bit of break'

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Do you think you could have won the match had Wang had not retired with injury?
I think today's match was really crucial, because I had to win the bronze medal. But I was still thinking about yesterday's match.

I thought I could have pulled off the match yesterday; that was playing in my mind at the start of the game. I made a good comeback from being down 14-20 to 18-20. 

She was getting tired a little bit in the first set and I thought she fell down to take a little bit of break, but I didn't know that it was so serious.

It was unfortunate she had to stop the game. I was very confident that I was coming back strong and she was getting tired. I was feeling it, because when I was up 11-6 she was almost on her knees, and was getting tired.

When I was coming back from 14-20 she was asking for water breaks, or asking for towels for court mopping and I could feel that she was getting a little tired. Finally, I thought she fell down to take a little break, but it was really sad that she got injured. 

What strategy did you follow today? Was it to play the long rallies?
Yes, but, in between, I was in a bit of a hurry to play the attacking strokes. When I finally again started playing long rallies she again started getting tired.

The strategy was the same yesterday, but I didn't do it well, I think, in the first set. But when I started doing it in the second set she started playing more attacking. 

Yesterday, my strategy didn't work well.


Image: China's Wang Xin is looked at by team officials as she sits down in pain while playing against India's Saina Nehwal in a women's singles badminton bronze medal match
Photographs: Saurabh Das/AP
Tags: Wang

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'I wanted to win the match in a good way'

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Do you think you also made some errors in judgment on the baseline?
I think I got those points. I didn't miss any crucial points on judgments. At the start of the first game I must have left few, but it didn't matter because I was 6-2 up, and then was down 15-6. I wanted to make her move a lot and make her tired. 

There was so much expectation on you to get a medal at the Olympics. How did you cope with that?
I was scared. When I won in Thailand and Indonesia I was scared and felt that there was too much of expectations on me to do well at the Olympics. That is why I didn't see the papers and felt a little bit scared that if I read them then I would feel more pressure or more tension.

But I was confident that I will do well here, I will win a medal. I had this feeling with me, but I didn't want it this way, of course. I wanted to win the match in a good way.

Finally, I still can't believe that I did it for India and that too in badminton, which is such a difficult sport for women in India. I have been doing well, won so many titles and finally the bronze medal at the Olympics. Still, I am in that zone...I don't know, I still can't believe I did it.



Image: India's Saina Nehwal leaves the court after China's Wang Xin, unseen, retired hurt at the women's singles badminton bronze medal match
Photographs: Saurabh Das/AP

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'I was confident that I would win the bronze medal'

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How does it feel to win a medal in this manner? Ever since I started playing at the age of nine till today I haven't won a match like this.

I still can't believe that she fell down and the match got over. Maybe I was lucky today and the medal was waiting for me. I still don't have that feeling of winning a match like this.

That is sad, of course, but I was very confident that I would pull it off in the second game. The five minutes' break really disturbed me a little bit because I thought she is doing it to take a rest.

But then it was serious in the second game; she came with a different strategy in the second and wanted to play a bit faster. She fell down again and I was shocked at what happened.

Then she told me I don't want to play. So, I don't have that feeling of winning the match this way; I can't tell you how it feels right now. 

Were you able to sleep well last night with such an important match coming up and an Olympic medal up for grabs?
I slept well last night. I totally slept last night because I was actually aiming to play the final. I was quite confident that if I made the final I could beat Wang Xin or Li Xuerui.

Of course, Wang Yihan is a tough opponent because she is faster and little stronger. I could not sleep the night before the semi-finals, but yesterday I slept nicely because what I wanted didn't happen and that was to be in the final. 

But I was confident that I would win the bronze medal so I was not tensed or worried about today's match.


Image: Saina Nehwal


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'Dad, I am sorry I could not get the gold'

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How do you plan to celebrate this medal?
I will go back to training again and that will be my celebration with so many tournaments coming up this year. Of course, I am a bit relieved because I have been working so hard in the last five-six years.

I won so many tournaments, won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, but my main aim was to do well in the Olympics and get a medal for my country. 

Finally I achieved it, so I am very, very happy. I will take a break now and watch some movies, because I love watching movies, and then start training again. 

Your father could not come to London to watch you play. Did you speak to him before or after the medal? 
Frankly, I didn't speak to him before the match because I was so upset about yesterday's match. I was giving an interview to ESPN about the match and they asked me what I wanted to tell my dad. I said, 'Dad, I am sorry I could not get the gold', but I am so happy that I got the bronze. 

At the same time, he wanted me to get into the final. So it was a little bit of a sad moment for me yesterday. But today I won a medal for India and it will be a dream come true to watch the Indian tri-colour being raised during the medal ceremony. I am happy I was able to do it.


Image: India's Saina Nehwal, right, in tears as she stands at themedal podium for winning bronze in women's singles badminton
Photographs: Saurabh Das/AP

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'Chinese players are very scared of me'

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So you will finish off all the chocolates that your dad has kept for you in the refrigerator?
I will finish off all the chocolates. I am not worried if I put on weight now for the next few days.  

Do you see more women taking up badminton in India after this bronze medal?
We see a lot of youngsters coming up in India and doing well for India, maybe a lot of boys, but among the girls -- PV Sindhu is doing well -- but I want more girls to come up.

It should be like Korea or China; we should have a lot of players doing well at the international level. And then you will have more results coming in. 

It is happening slowly but it will only happen if the results are there. Now the results are coming, so I can see the change happening and it will happen a lot more after this medal. 

Why is it so difficult to beat the Chinese players? How do you plan to break the Chinese barrier?
Now I will be more confident to play against them. This year I have defeated almost 6 or 7 of them. They are very scared of me and I know that because yesterday when Wang Yihan beat me I could see the happiness on their face that, 'Oh God, we have done it'. I am happy that I am the one who is doing it.

I can see the way they are playing against other players; when they play against me, they are scared. I am happy that I am the only one who is scaring almost 6 or 7 of them. It is a great feeling, but I have to be ready always and have to be fit always to play against them.

That is what I have to remember. I cannot just go out in the court and play against them; I have to be ready to play long rallies, be ready for long matches and fight till the last point -- that is very important.


Image: Xin Wang of China is helped from the court after sustaining an injury forcing her to retire from her Women's Singles Badminton Bronze Medal match
Photographs: Michael Regan/Getty Images

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'I was a little bit scared or nervous at the start'

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What extra is needed to beat a player like Wang Yihan, whom you have never beaten in six attempts?
It is not that I can't beat her. Yesterday, I was just following her game, I should have played my strategy.  I should have played a lot of longer rallies but I didn't do that.

I don't know, maybe she was too fast and I was a little bit scared or nervous at the start.  She had a big lead, she maintained it throughout; even when I started to come back she had a lead with her.  

It was just that my strategy was wrong yesterday but otherwise to beat her I have to do a lot more things. I took the CD of my match to learn where I went wrong yesterday and what I need to improve upon when I play her the next time.


Image: Saina Nehwal


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