National badminton coach Pullela Gopichand Wednesday came out in defence of Saina Nehwal after she "retired" on match point from the women's singles first round of the Syed Modi International India Grand Prix Gold at the Babu Banarsi Das Indoor Stadium here.
In controversial circumstances, Saina, India's Olympic bronze medallist, pulled out of the tournament.
The 22-year-old was on match-point (21-17, 20-18) against Russian Ksenia Polikarpova when surprisingly she told the referee she could not continue due to knee problems.
Badminton Association of India (BAI) officials were not impressed with Saina's act. A top BAI official, on the condition of anonymity, told IANS that Saina had already booked her return tickets Tuesday for Wednesday afternoon at 3.30 p.m.
Saina, who had also skipped the last edition citing fatigue, was not keen on participating this time as well. But she decided to participate only in the morning session due to pressures from various quarters.
Gopichand said Saina was tired.
"She has had a long season and was tired. I would have loved her to continue but her leg was bothering her," said Gopichand.
Asked why she entered the tournament if she wasn't keen on playing, Gopichand said: "The entries are given a month in advance when the players are pretty enthusiastic about the tournaments. But at some get tired at the end."
Saina, however, said she pulled out because she didn't want to put pressure on her knee.
"My physio had told me that I should not put much pressure on my knee. I was playing well but suddenly I felt some problem in my knee, so I decided to quit," said the top seed after the match.
Saina, a champion here in 2009 and 2010, said she had the same issue at the BWF World Super Series Finals in Shenzhen, China too. Saina lost the semifinals of the event Saturday.
"Even when I was playing at the Super Series Finals, I had a taped knee. This could have aggravated if I had continued. So, I decided to back out," added the Hyderabadi.
An Uttar Pradesh Badminton Association (UPBA) official said Saina's pull-out was a big blow for the tournament.
"Someone had booked her tickets from Hyderabad on Tuesday for Wednesday afternoon. If she did not want to play due to whatever reason, why did she come to Lucknow at all? It is a disaster for the tournament that the top seed and star attraction goes out on the first day," the official said.
Interestingly, Saina's match was rescheduled from 2.30 p.m. to 12.30 p.m. on her persuasion as her flight was at 3.30 p.m.
"Yesterday, Saina requested us if her match could take place a little earlier. So we scheduled it earlier. We had no qualms with that. How would we know she would do this?" said the BAI official.
Sources told IANS that it was pressure from Lucknow-based Sahara India Pariwar, who roped in Saina as the brand ambassador Tuesday, that prompted the player to take part in the tournament.
In more bad news for the organisers, men's singles top seed Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia also lost to India's Pratul Joshi 17-21, 12-17 in the first round.