London: Faces don’t lie, and Saina Nehwal’s didn’t either.
Saina’s place in Indian badminton folklore was confirmed when she was declared the winner of women’s singles bronze medal, but her face gave away the true story.
On Saturday afternoon, Saina did not have the most auspicious of starts against her Chinese rival, Xin Wang, the world No. 2. She lost the first game 18-21 and was trailing 0-1 in the second when Wang conceded the tie because of a left knee injury.
Her rival’s decision to concede the game meant Saina scripted her name in the history books, but not in the bold letters she probably had hoped for.
“After my defeat in the semi-finals, I was confident of winning the bronze medal,” she said later.
“Even after she (Xin) won the first game, I knew I would be able to come back. But I did not want to win this way. I did not realise her injury was that serious. I felt sorry for her,” she said.
Saina showed little emotion after it was confirmed that she was India’s third medallist at the Olympics here. She shook hands with chair umpire Mark Speight, embraced her injured Chinese rival and waved at the cheering crowd.
All through, her expression remained guarded. She clearly looked conscious of the fact that the victory had come by default.
This was not the way she wanted to finish her campaign, but a nation starved of sporting success lapped it up. There were joyous celebrations, and as one supporter said, “It was not Saina’s fault that her opponent got injured.”
While Saina eventually won the medal, Xin proved a far superior player throughout the 30-minute skirmish. In the first game, Saina took the lead initially but the Chinese reeled off a series of winners to take eight points in a row.
The Indian could only make a comeback when Wang twisted her knee while trying to stretch herself for a point. At 20-18, the Chinese called for a break and had to be treated on the courtside.
“I knew she had some problems and was trying to hurry things. So I decided to concentrate on attacks. When she called for a break, I thought she was tired and it was only a ploy on her part to get some rest. But later I realised how serious the situation was,” said Saina.
When Wang returned, she was still left with some energy. She clinched the game with a spectacular smash, brooking no answer from Saina.
Even the start of the second game saw the Chinese winning a point with a deadly cross court drop shot. But almost immediately, Wang collapsed.
“It is yet to sink inů I have never won a match like this before. But an Olympic medal is always an Olympic medal.
“I still can’t believe I have become the first Indian shuttler to win an Olympic medal,” said Saina.
Meanwhile, Li Xuerui defeated world champion Wang Yihan 21-15, 21-23, 21-17 to win the gold.
For the record, the Hyderabadi is the second Indian woman to win an Olympic medal after Karnam Malleswari. The lifter won a bronze medal in the 69kg 12 years ago.
Three medals are already in our kitty. The boxers and wrestlers have promised to win us some more. Can they? Let’s see how things unfold.