The Commonwealth Games at Melbourne was where Saina Nehwal earned her stripes as a shuttler who would challenge the best in the world when she suggested she be fielded in a critical team competition as a 16-year-old and pulled off an upset.
It is at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where India’s ace champion is in fact absent, that Nehwal has made another statement of intent – that she’s prepared to scale peaks that are higher than the accolade of being a CWG champion.
No one who was present at Delhi’s Siri Fort four years ago can forget the drama and exhilaration of Nehwal clinching the gold medal after a classic counterpunch against Malaysian Mew Choo Wong and leaving the English sulking when they were overtaken by the hosts for a second position finish in the tally of medals.
But India’s standing as a true badminton power, moreover a mature and self-assured one, will come in Glasgow, where with Nehwal out with injury, the rest of the flock will attempt to replicate and even better the tally from the last edition.
The mixed team-event gold must’ve been rather tempting for coach P Gopichand (India won silver last time), alluring enough to even rush Nehwal from a still-healing injury. But the biggest difference between Delhi and Glasgow is in that towering near-6 feet frame of PV Sindhu.
Having risen in stature in the mid-CWG years and already boasting of a World Championship bronze medal, Sindhu can step up to the challenge of defending what is India’s crown in women’s singles, and might well consider it a rite of passage as well as her biggest title. With only three other shuttlers in the Top 25, the CWG is thin on serious challenges, but loaded with an opportunity to flaunt India’s depth in the singles event.
While Nehwal has aced consistency, the 19-year-old Sindhu mixes the fiery with the adventurous. “She’s on and off on the radar of consistency,” is how Gopichand describes it.
At the same Siri Fort this May where Nehwal had lit up the CWG four years ago, Sindhu put up a show, match after match, at this year’s Uber Cup, which was a cross between a Holmes thriller and Houdini’s magic show.
Bringing drama to five thrilling matches, where she would start confidently, then lose her way, and then fight back, Sindhu survived the sweltering intensity of this summer’s inquisitions. “She played some high pressure matches, and showed great physical endurance in back-to-back games,” Gopi says, adding that by the time the individual event starts, Sindhu would’ve played in the team event, and had a solid 10 days to get used to the courts.
There’s Li Michelle of Canada, and Juan Gu of Singapore, but Sindhu’s biggest challenge will come from a very non-Asian opponent — home-girl Kirsty Gilmour. “Sindhu lost to her continued…