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Unless she wins a Major title, Saina won't be one of badminton's greats

By Bikash Mohapatra
August 18, 2015 09:05 IST
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For all her achievements, says Bikash Mohapatra, Saina Nehwal is yet to win either the Worlds, Olympics or All England, badminton's flagship events.

IMAGE: Saina Nehwal reacts after losing a point. Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters

 

Saina settles for silver

Saina loses to Carolina Marin

Saina wins historic silver

Some of the headlines that made the rounds on Indian television and Web sites since Sunday evening and were splashed across newspaper pages Monday morning.

This after Saina Nehwal was beaten in straight games by Carolina Marin in the women's singles final at the BWF World Championships on Sunday, August 16.

Without doubt, the Indian ace turned in a great showing at the Worlds, but she did lose in the final!

IMAGE: Carolina Marin, right, and Saina during the trophy presentation at the BWF World Championships in Jakarta. Photograph: Darren Whiteside/Reuters

 

Headlines like 'wins silver' don't convey the correct news. You don't win silver, you lose out on gold.

Such interpretation, besides undermining the champion's achievement, also camouflages harsh reality -- that despite having played professionally for almost a decade now, Saina is yet to win any of the three major titles.

The bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012, Saina's biggest achievement till the silver in Jakarta, was courtesy a withdrawal.

Whether Saina could have won the London match is another debate altogether. The head-to-head record indicated otherwise. Besides, her opponent, China's Wang Xin, had won the first game before retiring injured.

Even though it was only a third place finish in 2012, it was enough to send the nation into delirium.

IMAGE: Saina returns the shuttle to China's Wang Yihan in the quarter-final at the BWF World Championships. Photograph: Darren Whiteside/Reuters

 

Saina has been in the spotlight since her junior years. Blame it on India's lack of sporting heroes, the immense potential she displayed -- and consequently high expectations, or both -- her every victory is hailed as a milestone.

The media, at various times, eulogises her as the world's greatest player, the only one who could beat the Chinese at their game.

To her credit, she has achieved much over the years.

From winning the Philippines Open in 2006 to the World junior title in 2008, the Indonesian Open Super Series title in 2009, the London Olympics, the two 'finals' and the top ranking this year, Saina has offered a nation devoid of many sporting successes, hope.

But for all her achievements, she is yet to make that major breakthrough and win either the Worlds, Olympics or All England.

These are Badminton's flagship events. It is triumphs in these tournaments that make a player's career truly memorable and ensure her/his name is cited in the pantheon of greats.

IMAGE: Carolina Marin reacts after beating Saina in the BWF World Championships final. Photograph: Darren Whiteside/Reuters

 

More often than not, Saina has succumbed under the burden of expectations and underperformed at both the All England and the Worlds... till this year, of course.

In March, she featured in the All England final, the favorite going into the match. She had not lost in three matches to Marin, the last of those wins coming a month earlier in the final of the India Open Grand Prix Gold.

Saina started well, winning the first game convicingly. History beckoned. What followed was an indescribeable collapse.

In Jakarta, she never had a chance.

Both her recent defeats to Marin -- who, in a little more than a year, has achieved almost everything badminton has to offer -- has prolonged Saina's wait for that elusive major title.

The road ahead will be tough. It's not always that Saina won't face a Chinese player in the final. As she gets older her reflexes will slow down, and the players she beats fairly easily at the moment will get the better of her -- just as she did with Wang Yihan and Tine Baun.

Until she wins one of those three big tournaments, I believe she can't and won't be considered one of the best shuttlers in history, sentiments of her fans and media notwithstanding.

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