GOLD COAST : Just the other day, she was criticised for threatening to pull out of the Games. It’s poetic justice that Saina Nehwal had a hand in India’s historic mixed team gold against a formidable Malaysia here on Monday. Heroes are made of sterner stuff. On Monday Twitter was abuzz congratulating her. That’s the predicament sportspersons live with. Right at the start of the Games, Saina was drawn into an avoidable controversy when her father was told at the last moment that he could not be accommodated at the Games Village despite paying for it.
A strongly worded letter was leaked and Saina found herself in a needless controversy. She explained her position and moved on. There are more important matters to be dealt with. Her father Harvir Singh was in the stands when she brushed aside Soniia Cheah 21-11, 19-21, 21-9 to the cheers of a noisy crowd.
Saina was ecstatic. “When you play team matches, there is a lot of pressure and I felt it in the second set. But I was happy that I could win the third game quite comfortably,” she said. The excitement was palpable and the atmosphere electrifying at the Carrara Sports Precincts when Ashwini Ponnappa and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy took the stage. It took them 55 minutes to get over the Chan Peng Soon- Liu Ying Goh hurdle with a 21-14, 15-21, 21-15 scoreline.
The dice was rolled to perfection. The next match was the most anticipated one. Kidambi Srikanth versus the amiable Lee Chong Wei. The Indian has moved up to No 2 in the world, while Lee has fallen to No 6. It was delectable to watch the two battle it out with smashes and well disguised drops. In the end, the 25-year-old from India beat the 36-year-old 21-17, 21-14. “Everything went as per plan,” said Srikanth. “It was one of those days when nothing could go wrong.” Srikanth is now getting ready for the next challenge — the singles. “It (the medal) is heavy, but good to hold. Something everyone would like. It will be a quiet night tonight as we need rest and recovery before the singles tomorrow (Tuesday).”
By the time Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty faced Olympic silver medallists V Shem Goh and Wee Kiong Tan, India were 2-0 up. The two could not manage to turn in a dream performance and lost. The din inside the precinct rose to a crescendo. Chants of ‘India, India’ drowned the voices of Malaysian supporters as Saina went about her chores.
Despite a hiccup in the second game, she managed to thwart Cheah quite comfortably. “The way she played was commendable,” admitted Saina. “After I went up 13-11 (in the third game), I would say I lost some focus. That’s how she came close. But I got composure back and started attacking her.” For Saina, it’s a dream come true. “This is something I will cherish for a long time.” With the singles beginning Tuesday, she has little time to recover. email@example.com
Senior pro Sharath leads from the front as table tennis men brush aside Nigeria to follow women to top of podium
GOLD COAST : The table tennis teams (men’s and women’s) did not have an ideal start. Days before they left for the Commonwealth Games, they were hit by a scandal. One of India’s top players, Soumyajit Ghosh had to be dropped after charges of sexual harassment and rape were filed against him. He had been pivotal to the team’s success in the past. Strategies had to be redrawn and motivation rekindled. A player was called in as replacement. It was tough. “When it actually happened, we were all shocked, because we knew him,” said Sharath Kamal, the seniormost player.
“But we had to be professional about it. We had to be clinical. Yes of course, it is a loss to the team but we have a job in hand.” The men’s team beat Nigeria 3-0 for the second gold, after the women won it on Sunday. For the first time, India secured the men’s and women’s team gold medals at the Games. Sharath preyed on Bode Abiodun 3-1 in the first match at the Oxenford Studios. G Sathiyan was not even born when Segun Toriola made his debut at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. On Monday, he was inimical in his destruction of the veteran.
He played quick to exploit Toriola’s ageing reflexes. “I knew I was controlling because my attack was coming very well and he could not match my speed,” Sathiyan said after playing both singles and the doubles. The 25- year-old from Chennai was attacking the 42-year-old Nigerian. The team which has Harmeet Desai as third member is more comfortable now. Sharath has blended with the juniors. Four years ago, he was just a senior player. He was an outsider. The young players found it hard to open up to him. But now, things are different. He has taken over the mentor’s role. The players discuss the nuances of the game with him. “At the 2014 Commonwealth Games we didn’t do very well. We finished fourth in three events and won only silver. I was a senior player back then and they were juniors, so we couldn’t blend in,” said the 35-year-old from Chennai.
Things, however, started changing from Malaysia 2016. “After we won the second division, they started to treat me as a co-player. They still had the respect for me, but we were coordinating better. Earlier, I could not share my pressure with anyone else. But now it’s changed. “Today, Sathiyan was asking me if he should play up or down. Today, I was more focussed on myself. I was telling them ‘let’s do what you guys are comfortable and I will do my job, get my matches and we will win’.” The women’s gold acted as a catalyst. “After the women won, there was a lot of pressure, because we were the favourites to win gold. And the girls were the second seeds.
They actually motivated us to do better,” said Sharath. The senior pro is someone others look up to. “Sharath has played him many times and he gave some tips. I started strong but then I slipped out and he made some very good shots. I knew I had to be aggressive on the first few balls and his defence was passive today,” said Sathiyan, who is coached by S Raman. “He has been a fantastic coach and I call him before crucial matches.” With the team gold in the pocket, the players are now looking forward to the singles and doubles. Hopefully, these wins will buoy them to more medals.