Both Olympic medallists, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have produced top-quality badminton every time they have faced off.
If Saina Nehwal’s bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics fired the imagination of a cricket-loving nation, PV Sindhu added the silver lining with a stupendous show at Rio four years later.
The growing popularity of the Indian badminton duo has made for some steaming debates, but the bottom line is that both Saina and Sindhu have been perfect role models.
“Though people compare me with Saina, I do not think that in any way has hampered my progress,” says the younger Sindhu, who continues to be under national coach Pullela Gopichand, the man who made Saina Nehwal.
On the court, we have a rivalry and both of us want to win every game we play. But outside the playing arena, we are good friends and we would like to maintain that. I believe it is good that we have a healthy competition going on to be the best.”
Who-is-the-better-player debate notwithstanding, Saina Nehwal vs PV Sindhu has seen some dramatic encounters.
PV Sindhu first took on her senior pro in the final of the 2014 Syed Modi International GP Gold in Lucknow.
That match didn’t go as per Sindhu’s plans as Saina Nehwal comfortably won 21-14, 21-17 to clinch the title. Three years later at the India Open Superseries, PV Sindhu returned the favour.
Having grown in stature with every passing season and with an Olympic silver medal to show for, Sindhu walked into the quarter-final clash with Saina Nehwal at the India Open high on confidence.
An aggressive 21-year-old Sindhu matched Nehwal shot for shot before changing gears to race ahead in the game. Saina would rally well to close the gap, but Sindhu was in no mood to let go and won the opening game 21-16 in 19 minutes.
The second game was a humdinger. If it seemed Sindhu’s momentum would blow away Saina, the script didn’t quite follow that way.
The London 2012 medallist changed tactics and targeted the tall Sindhu’s midriff with her powerful returns. Sindhu wasn’t expecting this riposte.
With a third game almost certain, Sindhu found an extra gear from nowhere. Saina was caught by surprise as some amazing rearguard action helped Sindhu to close the gap and finally clinch an energy-sapping match.
Result: PV Sidhu beat Saina Nehwal 21-16, 22-20
Overall a very good match... even when she was leading 20-19, I still had the belief that I could pull through, I can do it. Saina is not someone special that I have to win against her. Against each player, I will give 100 per cent.” - PV Sindhu
Over the years PV Sindhu’s tenacity and hunger have seen her step out of Saina Nehwal’s shadow and dominate the badminton scene.
While Saina’s bout with injuries has been a major cause of concern, she has time and again proved her mettle at international competitions. And one such instance was the final of the women’s singles at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Goldcoast.
Having battled injuries to her groin, hip and knee in the 12 months leading up the Games, Saina Nehwal was a doubtful starter in Australia.
But the champion shuttler persevered not only to hand India a gold medal in the mixed team event but also won the women’s singles -- once again, with a victory against PV Sindhu.
In Gold Coast, Saina would dig into her vast reserves of experience and mental strength to produce one of her finest performances against Sindhu.
Saina would be aggressive from the first point -- barely letting the fatigue from a draining semi-final hurt her -- and would be sharper with her shots while Sindhu would struggle with her rhythm in the opening exchanges.
Though the silver medallist at Rio 2016 would find a way to claw back, Saina would barely let her focus shift and take the opening game 21-18.
Sindhu found her bearing to take the lead in the second but the day belonged to Saina Nehwal. She mounted a fine comeback to win the match. A 64-shot rally at 17-18 was a highlight of the contest.
While Sindhu relied on her deep shots to the back court, Nehwal would answer with some smart drop shots. Sindhu’s youthful aggression found a match in Saina’s craftiness.
Result: Saina Nehwal beat PV Sindhu 21-18, 23-21
Hundreds of things go through my head before I play her. If I lose, the first thing would be, ‘oh, Saina has lost… oh, Saina is becoming old… Saina should retire…’ I think there are 100 things which would be written for me. For her, it’s still okay because she is still coming up.” - Saina Nehwal
The Indian duo has faced-off on three more occasions.
With the Badminton Association of India (BAI) revamping the Senior National Championships in 2017, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have been the cynosure of the event ever since.
At the 2017 edition of the National Championships in Nagpur, the duo would entertain a packed house to some quality badminton before Nehwal clinched the title with a 21-17, 27-25 win.
The following edition too saw Saina Nehwal reign supreme, but this time, with a comfortable 21-18, 21-15 victory.
The only other match featuring the two stalwarts came at the 2018 Indonesia Masters where Saina Nehwal was once again at her dominant best, winning the tie 21-13, 21-19.