While everyone had their pair of eyes glued on to the Cricket World Cup down under, Indian Badminton Ace, Saina Nehwal was breaking all records in England in the Yonex All England Open Badminton Championships.
She had defeated the Chinese, Sun Yu, and had reached the final against all odds. Here, she was to face the current World Champion, Spain’s Carolina Marin.
In their three previous encounters, Nehwal held the edge with a head-to-head score line of 3-0. She had defeated Marin to clinch the Syed Modi title very recently in India.
However, like it always is with sport, records et al have little meaning and what really matters is how one performs on D-day.
With the stage set, the match began.
Marin was quick to put the very first point of the match under her name and take the lead on the scoreboard. But for more than half the match to come, this was the only time when she had been ahead.
Once Nehwal started winning points, there was no stopping her and she took the first game away from her opponent in the blink of an eye. She was quick, confident, and full of momentum and got this one done and dusted.
Marin started picking up towards the end, but as the old saying goes, it was too little too late. The game ended at 21-16.
In the second game too, Nehwal quickly captured the first few points and took a massive lead. The ball, oops I mean shuttle, was in her court.
What happened next happened not on the court, but in the minds of the two players.
Marin kept motivating herself at every point; letting out a little scream and pumping her fist. Although she was too far behind in the first game for this to have worked, this strategy more than worked in the second game.
Suddenly her game picked up and she started winning point after point.
On the other hand, what was more was that with every point lost, the confidence on Nehwal’s face kept vanishing and she looked extremely under pressure.
It was as though the tables had turned; the match took a complete U-turn and just as Nehwal had snatched the first game, Marin snatched the game before Nehwal could react. The game ended with a score of 21-14.
Coming back into the fight from one game down, Marin carried her momentum into the decisive last game and Nehwal couldn’t regain hers.
It seemed as though Nehwal had lost the game mentally much before it was actually over. And when you lose it in your head, then it is all over.
The last game was extremely one-sided, finishing 21-7.
This match was a great example of how important psychology and self-motivation and mental toughness are during sport. They can make or break the player and consequently make or break the game.
Nehwal is a tough player, and this is evident from how well she has been performing over the past year, breaking records after records. It just wasn’t her day.
Even though she didn’t win the title, her persistence and consistently great performances have helped her climb from the 3rd to the 2nd spot in world badminton rankings. If she keeps going like this, the number one spot is just at arms-length.