How Saina Nehwal’s Olympic destiny unfolded at London 2012
Despite having some top-quality players like Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand, India had failed to make significant strides in badminton, especially with regards to the Olympics.
However, everything changed in 2012 when a certain Saina Nehwal won the bronze medal at the London Olympics, popularising the sport amongst the generations to follow.
Ranked fifth in the world then, Nehwal managed to book her ticket for the quadrennial sporting celebration. At the Olympics, she cruised through the Group Stages, winning her two matches in straight games, a 21-9, 21-4 win over Sabrina Jaquet of Switzerland and a 21-4, 21-14 win over Belgium’s Lianne Tan.
In the round of 16, the Indian was pitted against Chinese-born Dutch sensation Yao Jie who too like Nehwal has sailed into the knockouts.
But little did she know that Nehwal was born of a different breed as she cruised past the Dutch with another straight-games win to set up a quarterfinal match against Denmark’s Tine Baun.
In the quarters, though she was pushed, Nehwal fought through two competitive games to win 21-15, 22-20 and booked a place in the semifinal of her first-ever Olympics, a tie that would see her face the top seed Wang Yihan of China.
In her last-four match-up, though Nehwal threw the kitchen sink in the hope of salvaging something, it was not to be as the Chinese displayed her class and ruled the court to pocket the match 21-13, 21-13. While Wang Yihan would go on and settle for a sliver after a tense match against compatriot Li Xuerui in the final, Nehwal had another Chinese to deal with in her bronze-medal match - Wang Xin.
This match too didn’t look like going the Indian’s way as she lost the opening game 18-21. Unfortunately, though, Wang Xin was forced to retire at the start of the second game after she twisted her knee while going for an acrobatic smash from the baseline, thus handing Nehwal and India their first Olympic medal in badminton.
A lot has changed in Indian badminton since that eventful day in 2012. While Nehwal rose to prominence, clinched the world number one ranking and also saw her career take a downward spiral only for her to bounce back in a determined manner, another rising star PV Sindhu did one better four years later in Rio with a silver medal performance at the 2016 Olympics.
When the 2020 Tokyo Games come around, the hopes and ambitions from the Indian badminton contingent will be sky-high. Will we see another Saina or a Sindhu encore, or will we have a new star emerge?