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On Sunday, vindication of all the hard work put in since she came back from knee surgery in late 2016 came in the form of a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, which made Saina the first Indian badminton player to win two singles golds at the CWG. Up against compatriot PV Sindhu, the World No 3, in the women’s singles gold medal match on Sunday, Saina prevailed 21-18, 23-21 in a riveting performance highlighted by an aggressive approach that she never backed down from. With this win Saina, ranked 12th in the world, took her overall head-to-head record against Sindhu to 4-1.
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Speaking to TOI from Gold Coast hours after she beat Sindhu, Saina said she was extremely pleased with her performance and revealed that channeling criticism into improving her fitness was the biggest gain.
Saina Nehwal beats PV Sindhu to claim badminton gold
“I faced criticism, but that’s what has helped me to work on the area where I felt and Gopi sir felt and Christopher Pedra, our physio, felt I needed to improve on. And that’s what matters – to improve and make yourself fit and I am happy to have won the Commonwealth Games gold because it’s a prestigious tournament and everyone wants to win it for the country,” said the 28-year-old. “I didn’t lose hope, I wanted to fight and win tournaments again and make myself a more positive person. It’s working well and just want to remain fit for the rest of the year.”
Special thanks to @ChrisPedraPT and @KDAHMumbai for all the rehab and training support over the past few months!… https://t.co/TtzHLRDQXs
— Saina Nehwal (@NSaina) 1523814350000
Will always fight for my dad, says Saina Nehwal
Not one to succumb to life’s challenges, Saina returned to the badminton court following knee surgery to correct a small fragment of bone that had separated from her knee cap bone and in her first event of 2016 – the Macau Open – she reached the quarters where she was beaten by the then World No 222 in a surprise loss. During a successful, injury-free 2017, the 2012 London Olympics medalist won a Grand Prix Gold, a bronze at the World Championships and her third national National Badminton Championship title with a 21-17, 27-25 victory over Sindhu.
Since she returned to the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad following last year’s Badminton World Championships, Saina has looked a fitter, leaner player and the latest result was Sunday’s gold medal at the CWG. Assessing her performance in the women’s singles gold medal match against Sindhu, she stressed on the importance of being fit given the ultra-competitive nature of the sport and also credited national badminton coach P Gopichand and physio Pedra.
“I think all the top 15 players are very sharp, fitter and stronger and the competition is always tough with everyone. That’s what happened with me in the semi-finals against Kristy [Gilmour] and in the finals with Sindhu. Both the matches were very tough, but as I said the main person behind my overall game improvement on court is Gopi sir and definitely a lot of credit goes to Christopher for giving me a good leg strengthening program,” she said.
Next up for Saina and India’s top shuttlers is the Badminton Asia Championships in Wuhan, China from April 24-29. Such is the life of an elite sportsperson today that there is not much down time, and ever since the BWF changed its structure in 2018 and made it mandatory for the top shuttlers to play at least 12 tournaments this year, the time to unwind has shrunk further. According to Saina, who was a vocal critic of the BWF’s international calendar in December, the CWG gold was motivation keep moving forward.
“Celebrations will be there definitely, but I think for the team event, because winning the gold in the team event was very special to the whole team. There is not enough time [to celebrate] as we have another tournament in a week, but I am proud that I could win a gold for my country, my coach and my parents. This will give me lot of motivation to do well in the future tournaments,” she said.