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It was a proud moment for Indian sport as youth icon Saina Nehwal stood at the top step of the podium on winning India their second badminton Gold of the Delhi Games. On a day when India's long standing tradition in hockey was left to lick the wounds of what has been a traumatic year for the sport, culminating in an 8-0 reversal in the Commonwealth Games final, the women shuttlers stood tall glistening in the spotlight as first the doubles team of Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta and then young Saina Nehwal clinched twin Golds.
The significance of those two Golds was clear to the knowledgeable crowd who thronged to the Sirifort Sports Complex for the Commonwealth Games finale, as not only did they notch up a century of medals for the host nation, but also propelled India past England into second place in the Medals Tally.Â It could have all been very different though as England were left to suffer immense disappointment, losing in three badminton finals themselves, ironically none of them in direct competition with the hosts.
The day began with Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork of England losing to Malaysia's Koo Kien Keat and Chin Eei Hui 22-20, 21-12 in the Mixed Doubles Final.
Up next was the women's doubles final as India's Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa beat top seeds Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao Lei of Singapore 21-16 21-19 in a tense affair. Both teams battled a bout of nerves on the big stage, with the left-handed Gutta carrying her younger partner for much of the first game. The Indian pair fell 0-3 behind early before crawling back to 6-5. At 8-10 down, the Indians went on a run of 6 points to pull ahead 14-10, an advantage they never relinquished. Gutta had a rare string of three consecutive errors to give the Singapore pair hope at 17-15, but quickly recovered to close out the opening game in 19 minutes.
The second game was neck and neck with neither side ever going on a run of points. The closest Singapore came was three in a row to pull ahead 15-12, but then India won the next two to close the gap right back. There was immense controversy at 18-18 as Singapore protested they were not ready for a serve and asked for the point to be replayed. The request was turned down by the referee, and India went up 19-18. With the match seemingly on her racquet, Gutta missed an easy smash from point blank range to allow Singapore to draw level at 19-19. However, the Indian pair quickly regained their composure to win an emotional Gold medal that also drew the hosts level with England on 37 Golds in the medals tally. India were still way behind in the silver count and needed England to lose both finals to follow and Saina to win her final match in order to clinch second place.
The disappointment for England continued as Rajiv Ouseph was soundly beaten by world no.1 Lee Chong Wei 21-10, 21-8 in the Men's Singles Final.Â Nathan Robertson then returned to the court for his men's doubles final encounter, once again up againstÂ Koo Kien Keat of Malaysia. Robertson and Anthony Clark lost a 37 minute final 21-19, 21-14 to Keat andÂ Tan Boon Heong as Malaysia clinched their third Gold medal of the day, making a late surge up the medals tally themselves.
It was now time for the main event, as India's no.1 star and Commonwealth Games Ambassador, Saina Nehwal stepped on court for her final with Wong Mew Choo. Wong started brightly racing to a 9-4 lead against a visibly nervous Nehwal. The first game was full of momentum swings as Nehwal won the next 4 points in a row only to lose 4 on the trot thereafter. A run of three points to either player followed and Nehwal was in trouble at 16-11. The Hyderabad lass raised her level of play towards the end of a tight opening game, narrowing the deficit to 20-19 before finally succumbing on a third game point.
Saina started better in game 2, pulling ahead 14-10 only to be caught right up. She had a game point at 20-19 and then faced a matchpoint at 20-21! However, some tremendous composure displayed in the face of adversity saw the youngster clinch the game 23-21. The young Indian ace shared after the match that she had never before battled back from matchpoint down to win, "It was a tense moment, but I did not give up."
Saina played a lot better in the final game as Wong began to wilt under the intense pressure of a fanatical home crowd. The Malaysian fell 3-7 behind and never really caught up again. At 20-12, the match was in Saina's pocked and she sealed an incredible win on her second matchpoint.
The Indian princess shared, "First set down, second set match point down so I was under pressure. I think it was the toughest match of my career."
Saina also thanked the fans for their tremendous support, "The crowd plays a very important factor in a crucial stage like this. I loved the crowd. I'm very happy I gave my racquet to the crowd. They've cheered me for so long, so I had to give something in return."
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