Saina Nehwal produced a match of typical grit, determination and stamina to beat PV Sindhu 21-17, 27-25 to take the women's singles title at the 82nd national championships in Nagpur on Wednesday. This was world number 11 Saina's third national crown, having won the title previously in 2006 and 2007, while Sindhu, ranked two in the world, had won once in 2013.
Sindhu picked up the first point of the much-awaited clash between India's only two Olympic medallists in the sport, but it wasn't long before Saina established control of the opening game, maintaining a distance in points against her higher-ranked opponent with a deft mixture of deceptive drops and powerful low shots at Sindhu's body. Up 10-7 at one stage, she lost two points before taking a 11-9 lead into the mid-game break by extracting an error, playing the shuttle low to Sindhu's backhand. She would then open up a five-point break, showing her willingness to fight for each point by moving Sindhu around for long rallies, and even affording a smile when a forehand smash of hers at 18-16 that appeared to have hit the sideline was deemed to have landed wide by the chair umpire. Another overrule by the chair umpire, this time in Saina's favour, gave her a game point at 20-17 and she would convert the first point itself.
"I think it was a very difficult game for me. Sindhu is world number 2 at the moment. I was expecting this to be very tough for me. I was able to move well today, and I was able to pick up her shots. I am really happy," Saina said after the win.
Sindhu started the second game with greater aggression, and before long had sped away to a 5-1 lead. This was when Saina's improved fitness levels came to the fore, as she then decided to take points long with rallies across all angles of the court, bringing the scores level at 6-6, first by winning a 32-point rally and then finishing another long rally with an emphatic forehand crosscourt smash to kill off the equalising point. Sindhu would then power her way to an 11-8 lead yet again, but after the mid-game break, Saina forced her way back into the game with some dogged retrievals and some trademark jump smashes across the court. Trailing 18-14 at one stage, Saina then lost just one of the next seven points to bring up her first match point, and that was where Sindhu showed glimpses of her ability to pull things back when the odds are stacked against her.
After conceding a second match point to trail 22-21, Sindhu then struck a powerful forehand smash to bring herself level, before losing a 41-point rally as both players threw everything at each other. Sindhu saved five match points in all, before conceding a sixth by sinking a shot into the net at 25-25. This time Saina would pounce on a tired shot from Sindhu and force her return low into the net, before letting out a scream in delight as she picked up a win that was earned with more effort than a straight-games score suggested.
"My movements were very good, and I was not thinking too much about the score. My fighting spirit was quite good, and even I am surprised by how I played today. I think I played a 100 percent today," Saina later said.