The woman, who had been a household name in India after bringing badminton glory to the nation, is suddenly forgotten. The Commonwealth Games gold medalist and London Olympic bronze winner Saina was also a former world no.1 in a sport that is dominated by the Chinese with a recent intrusion by Spain’s Carolina Marin. But two events dramatically changed the scene in India. For those, who were not fully aware of Saina’s huge restrictions of court movements due to a ligament tear in her right knee, the Indian badminton queen had been their biggest medal hope. Therefore, when the 26-year old Hyderabadi lost her second group-match against Ukraine’s world no.61 Maria Ulitina, her fans were thoroughly disappointed at her early exit from the 2016 Games. Ironically, the second event completely shut out the past achievements of Saina. While the injured Saina headed home to get admitted to a Hyderabad hospital, PV Sindhu won the Olympic silver for India and became an instant sports sensation. Sindhu’s silver and wrestler Sakshi Malik’s bronze were the saving grace for a nation of 1250 million people. With Sindhu occupying every inch of sports’ print media, no one thought of the hapless Saina lying on a hospital bed and waiting for her surgery. This is not to suggest that Sindhu’s amazing run in women’s singles should not be appreciated. After all, she gladdened the Indian hearts and raised India’s standing to no.61 in the final medals tally of the Rio Olympic Games. But certainly, Saina Nehwal has not retired from badminton. She may not be able to play for the remainder of 2016 season but she still has the acumen to bounce back on the world stage once more. Saina has good company in China’s former Olympic champion Li Xuerui, who also had to be operated after suffering from a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in her singles semi-finals. Both Saina and Li are great players with tremendous mental strength and they will be looking forward to hitting the courts by early next year.
When the Indian contingent arrived in Rio in the first week of August 2016, the nation’s medal hopes were pinned on shooters, archers and Saina Nehwal. When India drew a blank in shooting and archery, Indian sports fan were still hopeful that Saina Nehwal will not come empty-handed after her bronze medal victory in 2012 London Games. But they didn’t know that Saina wasn’t fully fit and her court coverage would become labored against a lowly ranked player from Ukraine due to her dodged right knee. Saina lost and flew back home to the utter disappointment of millions of Indians. While the Indian ace was hospitalized at Hyderabad, PV Sindhu delivered a stellar performance and reached the finals. Now no one thought of Saina. In the women’s singles final, Sindhu took the first set from Spain’s Carolina Marin and suddenly she was in a gold hunt. But Sindhu’s nerves cracked in second and third games while Marin was relentless in her own pursuit of the Olympic glory. As it transpired, Sindhu had to rest content with the silver but that in itself was something no Indian shuttler had ever achieved before.
Sindhu arrived in India to a tumultuous welcome and choicest accolades. Even today, she is the center of attraction with several state governments making a beeline to honor her. At a time when Sindhu is hogging all the limelight, Saina’s physical recovery from surgery has to be supplemented with her mental strength. Until the other day, Sindhu played a second fiddle to Saina and went to Rio just as another participant. Sindhu is an aggressive player and she has beaten many seeded players in her career but she was always regarded as Saina’s shadow. Therefore until Saina returns to the badminton courts, Sindhu will continue to be a revered figure because she won the silver in the Olympic Games.
As for Saina Nehwal, she returned to Hyderabad on August 16 and admitted to a hospital on August 17. There was a sizeable inflammation in her right knee and an MRI scan was done on her. After a critical appraisal of the MRI scan, the doctors attending on her decided that her surgery could be best performed in Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. The Mumbai hospital has a specialized center for analyzing such injuries and it is headed by Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala. When Saina arrived at the Kokilaben hospital, Dr Pardiwala saw her condition and revealed that Saina had sustained an intra-articular injury in the right knee and a small fragment of bone got separated from her patella, which is the same as the knee-cap bone. As per Dr Pardiwala, that fragment was causing her repeated impingement and pain. Without any delay, he performed the arthroscopic surgery on Saina and she was taken back to her room on the same day. On August 22, Saina flew back to Hyderabad and she is recuperating from the surgical procedure.
But the Indian ace cannot make her return to active badminton until next year since four months’ rest will be required for the operated part. Her coach Vimal Kumar feels that Saina will require plenty of time to regain match fitness and mental strength. She will be under a controlled rehab program, crucial to her complete recovery.