Saina Nehwal: I haven't moved like this in a long time


Saina Nehwal moved like a dream on Wednesday. You could have half-expected her to break into a pirouette. It was what got her to out-scream wild crowds after her sixth match point and leave world No 2 PV Sindhu feeling slightly miserable. While a senior national title, a third for Saina, might not exactly measure up to her other bigger conquests, that it came against Indian badminton's MVP counted for something.

"I think it was a very difficult game for me," a panting Saina, 27, confessed on the sidelines after her 21-17, 27-25 win in the finals, "Sindhu is the world No 2. I think my movements were very good. I was able to pick up her shots and wasn't thinking too much about the scores. I haven't moved like this in a very long time."

The world No 11 attributed her working knees and improved fitness wholly and quite rightly to her reunion with coach Pullela Gopichand two months ago.

The Olympic medallists, five years apart in age, and darlings of the crowds who've been striding in out of the venue with burly bouncers circling them, were playing each other for the first time since the India Open in March this year. Sindhu had won that battle and also a mini one before that in the Premier Badminton League semis in January.

On her part Sindhu seemed to be troubled by the drift and the pressure cooker-like situation that dropping the first game put her in. While they were going even at 18-18 in the second game and hurtling towards a possible decider, Sindhu screamed a forehand wide and let the momentum slip. Almost reflexively, she reacted by clasping the back of her head with both hands in seeming horror and disgust. She sensed she'd ceded crucial mental edge just when she couldn't afford to.

A backhand push into the net wasn't the best Saina could have done at 23-23 to keep the contest alive but she quickly forgave herself after Sindhu's fault on the next. This time the Rio Olympic silver medallist just dropped her racket. The match though was far from over. For the crowd it was retribution time for offices bunked, classes missed or TV soaps skipped on a Wednesday. Saina, near-immaculate in her shot placement through the match, then let one loop into the net to allow scores to level 25-25. Sindhu was now gulping down hard and her two successive net errors did Saina all the good.

"My fighting spirit was quite good, and even I am surprised by how I played today," Saina said, "I think I played my 100 percent today." The senior Indian will board the flight back to Hyderabad with the bigger trophy and the bigger smile.