Saina Nehwal after losing the semi-final tie against China’s Yihan Wang, on Friday
London: The hype around Saina Nehwal’s chances of reaching the Olympic final was on expected lines. Her surrender, too, was hardly a surprise.
When it comes to badminton, the Chinese are cut from a different cloth and it shows in their record in all major championships.
During Saina’s semi-final against Chinese world No. 1 Yihan Wang on Friday, the Indian fans raised the tempo of their own expectations with vociferous support, but in the end the gulf in class stood out. Among knowledgeable badminton fans, the Hyderabadi world No. 5’s 13-21, 13-21 defeat to an opponent she has never beaten in six attempts hardly raised an eyebrow.
Saina had provided a peek into her mind — and perhaps a clue to today’s result — during the Indian Open a few months ago.
“Chinese players are no more unbeatable, but not Wang. She is made of a different material. The way she maintains her standards, month after month, is simply amazing,” she had said.
If those words revealed the Indian’s respect for the world’s top player, they also amounted to an admission that she still had a few peaks to climb before she could stand shoulder to shoulder with her. That, sadly, did not happen at the Wembley Arena on Friday.
Saina looked nervous and went off her rhythm right from the start while Wang kept her cool and played to a plan. The Indian had problems negotiating Wang’s smashes, and her line judgement was below par. “My foot movement was bad and made me lose a lot of points; so was my line judgement. Wang today was absolutely top class,” she admitted.
The Indian fans were left aghast at the way Saina frittered away points on Wang’s serve. Her returning was poor and, overall, the difference was too big to bridge. Wang said she “was confident of winning from the very beginning” but admitted that winning the first game had calmed her nerves. “Because I won the first (game), there was more pressure on the Indian player.”
To be fair to Saina, she has chosen a sport where the Chinese are the masters and the rest can only hope to fight for the scraps.
Over the years, China have monopolised the major titles such as the Olympics, Asian Games and the world and Asian championships. The buzz in the circuit is that non-Chinese players are good only for winning the second-rung Super Series and Open tournaments held around the world, where the Chinese probably don’t come at them at full pelt.
The best example of this is men’s singles finalist Lee Chong Wei. The Malaysian has won tournaments across the world and remained world No. 1 for 199 consecutive weeks; but when it comes to the major championships, he has so far been left empty-handed.
Saturday will provide Saina with another chance to salvage her Olympic campaign when she takes on China’s Xin Wang for the bronze.
Saina has beaten the world No. 2 four times before, but never in any of the big four tournaments. Her conqueror today broadcast her confidence saying: “I will be happy to get the gold medal, but for the Chinese team to get all three medals would be the best idea.”
Saina has one chance to stop that.