The Premier Badminton League this year is a showcase of India’s Badminton talent. The league is a testament that the present and the future fraternity of World Badminton will be looking towards India with awe and fear. I am grateful for the opportunity that the league offered me, of watching Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu battle it out first time after Sindhu’s silver medal win in the Olympics. For me personally it was one of the most special matches I witnessed since I picked up the racket at the age of nine.
When the match started, I mute the commentary and sat alone in my room. I wanted to experience this match alone. There was a string of emotions, thoughts, images going through my mind and I wanted to be left alone with them. My mind predicted given the recent form Sindhu has been in, she would win. In my heart though I wanted Saina to win. I am a lifelong supporter of the underdog. In January 2006 when Saina was pitted against Aparna Popat in the Senior National finals I was rooting for Aparna for the same reason. Saina had beaten Aparna just a few months back in the Asian Satellite and Saina was 12 years younger to her. In the morning of that match while I went to train I saw Aparna training. After she finished training I saw her sitting in a corner of the stadium by herself for a very long time. That evening she was going to play the last competitive match of her career. Something about that sight of seeing her sit in that corner told me the final was going to be her best Badminton. It was! Aparna beat Saina that day in straight sets winning her 8th straight national title. There are some matches that go above and beyond the realms of a Badminton court.
The Saina- Sindhu match was one of those matches for me. In the recent past social media and newspapers have tried to predict Saina’s future after her recent injury. They have tried to analyse her progress, or sometimes the lack of it. Some have compared her to Sindhu and already declared that the baton has been passed. As a player and someone who has experienced some of the greatest Indian athletes first hand I would like to say one thing, “No one other than the player can decide when are they ready to pass on the baton.” The predictions made by people around them are futile. I have had the privilege of experiencing Saina as a team mate and as an opponent. She is one of the fiercest and most determined individuals on the court. She has maintained the same level of determination for the last 16 years, which is beyond commendable. Injuries take time to heal and patience is the key. Saina still has time and her determination and focus will bring her back to prime form. I can say one thing for sure that she still has some great Badminton in her and I won’t be surprised when she wins another Super Series.
Sindhu on the other hand is India’s current darling. She deserves all the attention and the glamour that comes with her stupendous success. She is humble, poised and determined to be better than the last time. She is young, hungry and sky is the limit for her. Sindhu has seen Saina train with P.Gopichand since her childhood. Just like any other 9-year-old girl she too must have got a lot of inspiration from watching Saina dominate the world of Badminton. From that 9- year- old aspiring to be Saina, she has done a marvellous job to dominate the world of Badminton, and create her own legacy and identity. I wonder what went through her mind before and after the match. As strategy, she was attacking Saina on the forehand side of the court and making her run diagonally. As the match progressed, it was clear to me that after the first six points of the match Sindhu just looked a little faster, a little sharper and a little less tired. At the top level of any sport this tiny margins are the only thing that determine the winner on a given day. The match had some amazing rallies and seemed to finish a little too quickly. My heart had to lose to my mind this time, though this is not what I take from this match.
I want to tell all the fans including myself to look at this match as a celebration. Here are two of India’s most successful women athletes, who have achieved some of the greatest things in Indian sport. The world will tell you to compare between them, to choose between them, and to decide whose achievement is bigger. In my humble opinion don’t make a choice and don’t judge them after this match or beyond. The only thing we should do as a country is celebrate them both. Saina as the one who made us believe that we could reach the top of the Badminton world and; Sindhu who comforts us by making us believe that we will be there for a very long time.