The stadium was abuzz with talks of the Saina-Sindhu game long before it transpired. The organisers too tried to milk the tie to their best. The game was promoted with war-like vigour. “Will be one hell of a match,” the graphic work tweeted by the official handle, read. Almost everyone had an expert opinion on how the game would pan out. But the beauty of sports is in its unpredictability factor. But that aspect did not come to fore on Tuesday. World No 6 Sindhu wrapped up her tie 11-7,11-8 in just 27-minutes against her high-profile opponent.
The match was witnessed by a decent Delhi crowd at the Siri Fort Stadium who had to brave the winter chill and go through a snail-paced traffic to make it to the south Delhi-stadium. It was hard to gauge who had stronger crowd support. But one thing was certain, they had turned up primarily for the Sindhu-Saina game. The crowd started thinning as soon as their last point was played.
“Woh bhi nahi chhod rahi thi ( She refused to let go) aur main bhi ( and me too),” she said, recalling a long rally in the second game. “I just played my game and did not take any pressure. We played after a very long time. I did not take it easy. It was a good match overall,” she said.
In the second game, Saina, who looked a bit sluggish in peak fitness, tried her best to claw her way in by trying to beat Sindhu at her own game — playing deep. But Sindhu was up for the task and held her nerve to win crucial points. At 6-5 in favour of Sindhu, the best point of the game was played. Both went at each other relentlessly testing every aspect of their opponents game.
The 48-shot rally was finally put to an end with a cross court shot by Sindhu. And then came a loud roar which could be heard despite the loud applause – Sindhu’s fist pump showed how hungry she was to win the game. “I tried my my level best. But I wasn’t moving very well,” accepted Saina.
The last time Saina and Sindhu faced, it was a completely different ball game. In 2013 at the Syed Modi International Grand Prix, Saina already an Olympic bronze medallist was facing a rookie Sindhu who could be easily intimidated. Saina didn’t give much of a chance to her compatriot. But on Tuesday, Saina was gearing up to face, what we can call, Sindhu 2.0. An Olympic silver, the farthest any Indian shuttler has gone, a China Open title, a last four finish at the year-ending Dubai Superseries has sky-rocketed Sindhu’s stature. Her aggression not only reflects in her game but her attitude as well now. Something the 23-year-old lacked a few years back.
Saina, meanwhile, hasn’t found her A -game since returning from a knee surgery. She aimed a couple of potent smashes at Sindhu but the tall 21-year old was ready with her well-oiled defence.
Sindhu also has had her share of injuries, but feels self-belief is the key. “You need to believe in yourself and that’s what was the first thing I did. After the injury you are a bit scared whether you can give your best or not, but you need self belief.” The first game was error-strewn with both the shuttlers misjudging the speed of the shuttle. “It was nerves maybe,” Sindhu feels.
Sindhu and Chennai Smashers sent out a bold statement by deciding to play their trump game against Saina Nehwal, while Awadhe reserved their trump game for the men’s doubles tie. Overall, Chennai Smashers won the semifinals 4-1 as Awadhe Warriors lost both their trump game.
Sports lovers in the country have long been denied a serious domestic rivalry. The Sindhu-Saina saga, which has taken a new angle post Olympics could just be the answer to it. When world No 2 and Olympic champ Carolina Marin was asked to recall one loss that troubled her the most in her career a few days back, her reply was not on the expected lines – not the mighty Chinese. “It was against a player from my country, the No 2 Beatriz Corrales.” Maybe Saina feels the same. Maybe, there were two silver linings in Rio – one medal and another career mend.
Meanwhile, Chennai will face Mumbai Rockets in Saturday’s final. Mumbai beat Hyderabad Hunters 3-1 to enter the title round. For Hunters, Carolina Marin lost her trump game to Sung Ji Hyun 6-11 11-6 11-5.