Saina Nehwal has said it is unfair to target PV Sindhu over her repeated failure to clear the final hurdle of major tournaments in the recent past.
The 28-year-old, who had led India to a gold medal in the mixed team event in Gold Coast, fought fire with fire as she took the attacking route and put relentless pressure on her opponent before eventually winning the tie in straight games 21-18, 23-21 in 56 minutes.
Few very important people to thank for this beautiful gold medal ?... Chief Coach Gopi chand Sir , coach @siyadathullah , Physio who helped throughout the tournament Johnson Solomon Sir ..my dear Papa @NHarvir and the wishes of my fans ??#Commonwealthgames18 #memorablemoments pic.twitter.com/qYfKEldMCv— Saina Nehwal (@NSaina) April 15, 2018
It was Sindhu's third successive defeat in the final of a major badminton tournament after the Rio Olympics in 2016 and the world championships in 2017. The 22-year-old has been facing criticism for her inability to scrape through high-pressure situations in big finals.
Sindhu was even labeled "choker" by Sandip Sikdar of the Hindustan Times after she had lost a marathon final at the Glasgow world championships to Japan's Nozomi Okuhara although her valiant fight in the tie was anything but a choke.
"It happens in tough situations, it has happened with me as well. You can't write like that about any player. Today, I fought well. I didn't attack much because my stamina was finishing. I just wanted to finish off rallies. She was doing very well in rallies too," Saina was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.
'Healthy rivalry' between Sindhu and Saina
Saina labeled her rivalry with Sindhu as "healthy" after the two Olympic medalists shared the podium in Gold Coast. Sunday's gold medal-winning performance was the former's third straight win over the latter.
The London Olympic bronze medalist had defeated her younger compatriot in the final of Senior National Badminton Championships last year and at Indonesia Masters earlier this year.
"You just have to play your game, it's a healthy rivalry, people enjoy it, no doubt we are under tremendous pressure. But I am happy to be pulling these off. It's not easy to play against someone who is ranked No.3 in the world now," the newly-crowned Commonwealth Games champion said.
"It was a neck to neck game for me, it was even tougher because I have been playing for the last 10-12 days. She is tall, she has longer legs and covers the court better than me, I have to run here and there. I lost five kgs in the last few months, that helps you move faster," she added.
CWG 2018 medal next to Olympic bronze: Saina
Saina insisted she would rate her Gold Coast gold medal right next to her London Olympic bronze medal. Notably, the former world number one's Commonwealth Games 2018 campaign began on a difficult note as she had faced criticism for threatening to pull out from the quadrennial event over denial of Games Village access to her father.
However, the seasoned campaigner was able to fend off negativity and focus on the job at hand. The Hyderabad shuttler showed signs of her vintage self as she was toying with Sindhu with her precision and power in the high-pressure final Sunday.
Questions were asked about Saina's ability to dominate the sport after she bowed out of Rio Olympics with a knee injury that hampered her performances in the 2016 season.
Saina was managing crucial wins, including the third-place finish at last year's world championships, on her road to recovery in 2017. The CWG 2018 medal should only give her more confidence and silence her critics at the same time.
"I really term it as next to my Olympic medal and my world No.1 ranking. So I would keep it somewhere there. It's a gift to my father and my mother, my country. It's a very emotional moment for me after the disappointing loss in Rio due to injury," Saina said.