Authors: Renu Saran
Badminton Queen of India
Publisher: Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.
X-30, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase-II
Phone: 011-40712100, 41611861
Badminton Queen of India: Saina Nehwal
- Renu Saran
Saina Nehwal, one of the best sporting talents produced by India is a world-class champion of present time. The talented girl has achieved great things pretty early in life. Right from the age of 8, she had dedicated her life to badminton. This became her chosen sport. Saina Nehwal is certainly the brightest star in Indian sport. Despite the cricket hype and craze about sports fans in India, badminton managed to carve a niche; kudos to Saina Nehwal and her incredible victories. People now like to watch badminton and appreciate Saina’s victory.
Away from the media glare, Saina’s career has enjoyed steady rise. Be it her popular National Badminton Championship victory or the Olympic medal, Saina has regularly beaten the top ten players. With dedicated and successful attempts of increasing her rank, Saina is truly a world-class achiever.
Saina, in all likelihood is the pride of our nation. Critics and well-wishers strongly feel that the girl will continue to bring great laurels to the country and make everyone proud in the years to come. We wish this real achiever huge success, fame, and happiness in future.
– Renu Saran
1. The Young Girl Who Brought Glory to India
2. Birth of a Badminton Star
3. Childhood of Saina
4. The Steady Winning Rituals
5. Saina’s Journey to the Top
6. Some Special Moments in Saina’s Career
7. Saina’s Coaches
8. Saina’s Preparation Before Match
9. Ideal Diet for a Badminton Player
10. How to Be Mentally Prepared Before a Game
11. Awards and Honours – A Part of Saina Nehwal’s Life
12. Saina’s Injury Free Career
13. What Makes Saina Nehwal Super Saina and a Winner?
14. Some of the Significant Years in Saina Nehwal’s Life
15. Saina Nehwal’s Daily Training Schedule
16. Sponsorship and Endorsements
17. The Sacrifice of Parents
18. Badminton Fitness
19. Stepping into the Glamour World
20. Saina’s Favourite Badminton Players
21. Saina’s Favourite Cities
22. The Sportspersons Saina Admires
23. Saina and Her Chinese Opponents
24. Saina’s Non Badminton Interests
25. Saina Nehwal and Spirituality
26. Famous Quotes by Saina Nehwal and Eminent Badminton Players
27. Saina and Her Lucky Courts
28. Future Plans of Saina Nehwal
29. Things You Didn’t Know about Saina Nehwal
30. Saina’s Best Friend – Dedication
31. What Others Say about Saina Nehwal
The Young Girl Who Brought
Glory to India
Saina Nehwal, the badminton sensation of India, has brought glory to India by winning the bronze medal at the London Olympics. She has also given stunning performances by winning the Indonesian series and the Swiss Open Grand Prix.
Other than being a talented badminton player, this young girl has always displayed great sportsmanship spirit and respect to the country. Her conduct on and off court has always been impeccable. It was almost at par with Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketing maestro. The girl has also been in the limelight for over a decade now. But her primary focus has always been the game. Never had she made a comment that was inappropriate or against the spirit of patriotism that players usually portray. Her main focus has always been the game. She would never surrender or accept defeat easily. With a series of success at a young age, the girl has carried the pressures and expectations of a billion Indians on her young shoulders. And she did it with such poise that only a true professional could have done.
The girl had to undergo rigorous training schedule and sacrifice small pleasures of life. She had done this throughout her career and this is exactly what is helping her emerge as one of the most talented and reigning badminton queens across the globe.
India is proud to have produced a badminton player (only non-Chinese player) who reached the semis of the Olympics. She is also the only player whom Chinese women badminton players fear.
The girl knows the art of maintaining dignity and composure. She never loses focus on the sport regardless how the glamour world and media treats her. True sportsmanship spirit is what the girl believes in. No wonder the nation didn’t witness any overt celebrations after Xin Wang (her Chinese opponent) retired hurt from the match and the bronze medal fell for her. Saina knew the circumstances well and her behaviour was apt. Her loss in a match is graceful enough because she knows how to accept her weakness.
Saina, the paragon of womanhood has achieved a lot at a very young age. The girl visits courts and delivers her best. Saina’s perseverance, focus, consistency and incredible ability to carry herself makes her a winner always.
Birth of A Badminton Star
Saina, the living legend, is considered as the legendary Indian Badminton player and she is probably the best women Indian Badminton player. The early life of Saina Nehwal was full of struggle. She battled with each obstacle and won over it.
Saina has obtained some amazing achievements in the past. She has accomplished the second position on the globe and been successful in three worldwide competitions. Her greatest accomplishment is that she became the first native Indian woman to arrive at the quarter-finals circular at the Olympic activities. She was granted Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Prize this season for her spectacular performance in worldwide competitions.
Early years of Saina Nehwal was full of hard work and practicing the badminton all the time. She was born on 17
March, 1990, in Dhindar, Hisar, a town in Haryana to Dr. Harvir Singh and Mrs. Usha Nehwal. Thereafter, the family moved to Hyderabad. Her influence for becoming a badminton player came from her family itself. Her father is a scientist at the Directorate of Oilseeds Research, Hyderabad. Both Harvir and Usha were badminton state champions for Haryana.
Childhood of Saina
Since Saina’a parents were avid badminton players, they used to walk down to the faculty club at the Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural campus to play badminton. Saina and her sister Abu used to accompany their parents. Abu was seven years old at that time and used to carry six months old Saina.
Little Saina loved badminton since she was an infant. Her father noticed his infant daughter shrieking out aloud while the couple played badminton. She also followed the shuttle back and forth. This was one game Saina thoroughly enjoyed right from her childhood.
Saina was a cute little girl when she was five years old. She was nicknamed ‘Steffi’ by her friends and family as she had keen interest in sports and related activities.
Saina was at her naughtiest when she was 4 to 5 years old. When the family lived in Hissar, the residential area was a bit dangerous for kids as there were lots of monkeys. But Saina was a brave girl. She would often scare the poor monkeys by running after them.
One day, she gave a pleasant surprise to her father. She came home holding 3 big trophies. She had won all of them in the sports meet at school.
Once, Saina met with a horrifying incident in her life. It was a difficult moment for her parents. In fact, it still brings shudders to her father. Saina got her finger seriously injured when she was a child. The finger was actually in two pieces, just dangling with a little bit of skin. Her mother acted promptly and wrapped the finger in ice. She rushed her to the hospital and the surgeon did a good job fixing it and saved little Saina’s finger.
Saina grew up to be a smart, energetic toddler. She was admitted to a school within the Haryana Agricultural campus. Life in school was normal just as any child’s. Saina was an obedient student in school from 8:30 in the morning till 1:30 in the afternoon. Her favourite pastime was playing outdoors for a long time.
Childhood Picture of Saina Nehwal
– Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan’s Vidyashram, her school
In 1998, when Saina was eight years old, Dr. Harvir Singh was chosen for the post of principal scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Now, this demanded a transfer of place and the entire family shifted to Hyderabad.
It was a new experience altogether for Saina. She missed her school, friends, and everything that was good about her birthplace. Hyderabad was new. The language was different. To worsen the situation, the kids were shifted during summer holidays. All they could do was sit at home and get bored.
Dr. Harvir Singh and his wife noticed boredom that was killing their children. One day, they came across a karate school and decided to enrol Saina for the classes. She started learning the martial art from Coach Indrasena Reddy. The coach was paid Rs. 100 each month. The training sessions went on smooth for a year and Saina managed to win a brown belt.
But one day, the karate coaching came to an abrupt end. In December 1998, Saina’s coach demanded a demonstration. The instructor prepared to run a motorbike over the hands of the students. For Saina, the demonstration was a little different as she was new to the art. She had to hold her breath and balance a heavy weight on her stomach. A man weighing 90 kg stepped on her stomach making it very difficult to hold her breath, she exhaled. This was a huge blunder on her part. Poor Saina had to suffer from severe stomach pain for many days after. This incident brought her karate classes to an end forever.
During the summer of 1999, Dr. Harvir Singh heard of a badminton camp that was being organized by the Andhra Pradesh Sports Authority. Dr. Singh was sure about enrolling Saina into the camp. There was no looking back since then.
Dr. Harvir Singh used to visit the Lal Bahadur Shashtri Stadium early morning. But they were informed that the enrolment was closed down for the season. Then, Dr. Harvir Singh met the senior coaches P. S. S. Nani Prasad and S. L. Giverdhan Reddy. Learning about the enthusiasm of the child and upon her father’s insistence, the coaches approved an enrolment.
On that morning, Saina’s very first stroke was a smash. This impressed the coaches. And from then onwards Saina attended the badminton camp every morning religiously with her mother. Since the place was very far from where the family lived, Saina and her mother had to wake up very early to mark their presence on time.
The camp experience was new for Saina as she had to indulge in some exercises too. She had to run up and down the stairs, run about 400 metre, and do cross country racing. Since, she was working out for the first time ever in her life, it took sometime for her to adapt to the situation.
Mrs. Usha noticed a spark in her daughter. She decided to train her in the sport in her free time. So, Saina used to practise the sport with her mother in the afternoon too. She used to teach her the strokes and instructed on what the little girl should focus the next day at camp. Her interest in daughter’s game was such that even the coaches would agree to her suggestions.
Towards the end of the camp, an announcement was made. The organizers decided that one player among them would be selected for further training. The selection was performance based. Sania reached the finals but lost it to a player from Maharashtra, Deethi. Deethi was selected but couldn’t go ahead with the training as it was time for her to return back to Nagpur where she hailed from. Deethi’s loss was Saina’s gain. She easily slipped into the slot.
At this point of time, Saina never thought of badminton beyond holidays. However, Mrs. Usha was quite ambitious and decided to encourage her daughter to pursue the sport. She pushed her little daughter into the training session.
Soon, the school session began and Saina resumed her 4th standard. The badminton coaching was to continue along with the study and this little girl agreed. Although, Lal Bahadur Stadium was about 25 kilometers from the company quarters the family resided in, Saina was determined.
Each morning, she would wake up at four, get ready and take a bus to the stadium. The little girl trained between 6:00 am to 8:00 regularly and rushed to school. The afternoons were dedicated to the stadiums again. It was her mother’s duty to pick her up from school gate and take her to stadium. Dr. Harvir Singh would pick the mother daughter duo later in the evening. The routine made the family reach home by 9:00 at night. The exhaustion would kill them all but Dr. Harvir Singh and Mrs. Usha Nehwal never showed it to their daughter.
Rigorous training was an integral part for the initial years. Since, Saina was growing the training sessions would result in unbearable pain. She used to shriek in sleep many nights. Her mother would then massage legs with warm almond oil. This gave her strength to train the next morning. The stress also gave dark circles under eyes. This would have been a cause of worry for any other growing girl but Saina was extraordinary. She had falling in love with the game and everything it gave her. Saina liked to play, visit the courts, and win games.
Academics were definitely important. The scientist father aimed for good education and a bright career for his daughters. And Saina always dreamt of being a doctor despite of all the love and ardour she felt for the game. The couple made sure their daughter never aged behind studies.
The Under-10 District-level tournament came up the same year, 1999. It was held in Tirupati. Saina participated and won! Saina had been playing badminton for two months by then. I.R.D. Shirvani from the Godavari district was her opponent.
Saina beat Shirvani in straight sets. This was her first big victory. She won cash prize for Rs. 500. Saina gave her big earnings to her parents and dedicated the victory to them. Dr. Harvir Singh commemorated the occasion by taking his daughter to the Tirupati Balaji temple. He dedicated the victory of his daughter to the Almighty.
The Steady Winning Rituals
After playing at the district level in the year 1999, Saina started climbing her ladder of success steadily. Winning at major badminton games gave her some relief in school too. Her teachers were not bothered about her reaching late in school or leaving early. Saina reached school late in the morning and left by 2:30 in the afternoon to be at the training. The schedule was envious for her classmates but not those who saw her rigorous and painful training sessions. Most of the time, she used to fall asleep on Dr. Harvir Singh’s scooter on her way to training after school. The exhaustion was too much for the little girl.
Luckily, Dr. Harvir Singh and Usha Nehwal understood the condition of their daughter and allowed her some freedom from studies. They didn’t put much pressure on her to study as much as she played. This allowed her to focus on game and she started participated in state tournaments at Under 12 and Under 14 levels.
Saina won most of these tournaments. Those, she lost made her feel really bad. Her mother would feel upset. Mrs. Usha Nehwal was Saina’s inspiration. She believed in her daughter’s capability and made it a point not to upset or demotivate her.
Within a short period of time, Saina’s life was surrounded by badminton. People used to wonder if she enjoyed a normal childhood. Surprisingly, the childhood was happier and glorious despite all the hard work she put in. She won many tournaments and always stood first in the class.
The only thing she missed as a child was ‘friendship’. Saina never had that kind of time to make friends. Those, whom she played with and against were the only ones she used to interact with. But since they were rivals at the court, friendship was not possible after a certain level. Hence, Saina missed out on birthday parties, weekends and picnics. Saina believes in the adage ‘to win some, you lose some’. And now that she is the badminton star of the country, she doesn’t miss what she had lost years ago.
By the time Saina was in class 7, she started crossed state and national level tournaments. She was now playing internationally. This affected her studies and school attendance dropped steadily. Her major presence was felt at the international tournaments. Since, each tournament took about two weeks to finish, it was quite difficult for Saina to keep up with the pace.
Luckily, her teachers and principal understood her passion for the game and extended all the support they could. They helped the upcoming badminton star to catch up with the lessons. Her mathematics teacher helped her a lot in following up with the missed lectures and practicals. The P.T. teacher was more than encouraging. He always inspired Saina to make efforts and win medals in the tournaments.
The year 2001 entered with a big event in her life. Saina participated in the K.M. Munshi Memorial Badminton Tournament. This was an annual event held in her school. Saina was supposed to play at the All-India level and won the match.
Year 2002 was a glorious period in Saina’s life. In the month of July, she participated in the Hyderabad District Badminton Championships in about 6 categories:
• Under-13 Singles and doubles
• Under-16 Singles and doubles
• Under-19 Singles and doubles
Saina won the all!!!
Saina played at the national level. She went to play around 36 tournaments. The categories again comprised of:
• Under-13 Singles and doubles
• Under-16 Singles and doubles
• Under-19 Singles and senior women’s
Saina won about 28 gold medals and five silver medals within the third year of her game. This little girl was barely 12 years old then.
Saina was growing and her ambition grew with her. She was in class 10th now. This is a crucial stage for every student’s life. In India, a child’s future is predicted by the numbers he or she scores in the board examinations. The pressure is killing. But for Saina, it was like any other examination that entered in her life with each new class she attended. This time around, Saina was away for an international tournament, ‘The Junior German’. She also participated in ‘The Dutch Open’.
She returned to India just twenty five days before the board examinations were scheduled! Of course, there was no time for her to study. But it was her duty to attend the exams and before she did, the cramming session started. In fact, she crammed the entire year’s portions within those twenty five days! Poor girl!
One of the worst moments during tenth standard exams were her cramming sessions during social studies paper. It was really tough and she couldn’t do it all on her own. So Dr. Harvir Singh and Usha Nehwal supported her. They helped her understand the lessons. The paper was more than a nightmare. Since, Dr. Harvir Singh knew the condition of his daughter, he accompanied her to the school and waited until Saina finished the paper.
Finally, the girl came out of the examination hall. Dr. Singh couldn’t wait to know how his daughter fared in the exams. He asked Saina to narrate the answers she wrote for the paper. But Dr. Harvir Singh was shocked. He told Saina that she will fail.
The entire family waited for the results. This was a difficult moment for everyone. But all’s well that ends well. Finally, the results were out and Saina passed her exams with an aggregate of 65 percent. And Dr. Harvir Singh was surprised to know that his daughter scored 75 percent in social studies, highest in any subject!
The 10th standard results were a huge relief for Saina. She was happy to overcome all hurdles and pass the examination with a decent score.
Saina was 15 years old now, crucial period in any individual’s life! This is the time when one decides about future and career options. Saina had no confusion in her mind. The goal was crystal clear. She wanted to become a professional badminton player. Her motive was to make her country proud.
In 2003, Saina played eighteen tournaments at national level:
• Under-16 Singles and doubles
• Under-19 Singles and doubles
• Czech Junior Open
Saina won 16 tournaments and was the runner up for two of the tournaments.
Finally, Saina disclosed her secret ambition to Dr. Harvir Singh who wasn’t really convinced with the idea. Of course, he was confident about Saina’s spirits, skills and willpower. But he wasn’t really convinced about the scope for an immensely talented player like Saina in India. She was consistently beating op players and winning tournaments. Moreover, Dr. Harvir Singh wasn’t sure of the better choice – a doctor or badminton player.
Soon Saina enrolled into class 11th at St. Ann’s School. Her subjects were – Chemistry, Civics, and Economics. But the girl faced many troubles attending school during this phase of her life. Her practice sessions got more rigorous and stringent. She had to devote a lot of time and energy to be able to cope with studies.
By the time, she passed her 11th standard exams, Dr. Harvir Singh was convinced that his daughter will play badminton professionally. This way, badminton was etched into Saina’s future.
In 2004, Saina started playing at international level. The busy schedule left her with very little time to play in India. However, as an ardent player, she managed to play the Under-19 Junior Championships and walked away with victories in the singles and doubles titles.
One of the major achievements in Saina’s life arrived in the year 2005. She equalled ace badminton player Prakash Padukone’s record in the following tournaments:
• Senior Nationals
• India International Satellite
In the year 2006, Saina travelled all the way to the Philippine Open. This was the tournament that began with a gold for her. Unfortunately, the dates of the tournament coincided with that of her exams. Saina chose to participate in the tournament. This was a big decision for a school going girl but not for a badminton lover.
The media headlines highlighted the news saying ‘Saina skips exams to win a tournament’. The entire nation was proud of her. After all the ‘four star tournament’ was won for the first time in India. This was one of the Gold Grand Prix events. The team didn’t win but Saina won gold. The event inspired her a lot and boosted her confidence levels.
The school was cooperative too. It allowed Saina to skip exams and encouraged her to play for the country. They knew she would make the whole country proud one day. This was a proud moment for Saina too.
The year 2008 arrived with an opportunity to participate in the Under-19 World Junior Badminton Championships. The championship was organized by the Badminton World Federation. Saina really worked hard to win it.
The same year, Saina was invited to school as chief guest for the Sports Day. This was an emotional moment for the budding badminton star. The moment she took her place on the podium, the dean addressed her as ‘madam’. This was unbelievable! The shock was enough to make this teenager fall off the chair. This was also the moment Saina understood what she has achieved in life.
The rigorous training schedule and regular touring for tournaments within India and abroad had left very little time for Saina to concentrate on studies. She gave up studies after giving exams for 11th standard.
Saina’s Journey to the Top
So, how did Saina made it to the top? Did she face many troubles? Well, to reach to a certain height in any field, one must face struggles and overcome them. In case of badminton, the game needs to be played step by step. There are no shortcuts in the dictionary of badminton. So, Saina moved ahead slow and steady. She had her goals set. First, district level, then state level, national level and then international level.
At the age of twelve, Saina participated in the team event of Commonwealth Games. Aparna Popat, the best women’s player in India was the main player in the event. All eyes were on her. Saina was a mere junior player. Hence, her duty was to spend time on the bench. The badminton lover was not quite happy to spend time in idleness. She wanted to rush to the court and test her skills.
However, the experience proved to be a significant for budding player, Saina. She could see the how experienced players acted in the court, their strategies etc. Her major focus was Aparna. She learnt a lot from her. This was also the moment when Saina yearned to be a part of international circuit.
By the grace of God, Saina got this opportunity in the year 2003. Saina was selected for Czechoslovakia Junior Open in Prague. It was an Under-19 tournament. She was 13 years old and an unranked player then. Saina played 5 rounds before reaching finals and won gold. But her performance was appreciated. It was her first international tournament and she managed to beat players ranked between World Numbers 60 and 20 (senior category). Saina always believed in trying and winning. Rank is just a number. Badminton is all about trying hard and learning from past experiences.
“Every player who makes it past qualifying matches has a chance to win.”
– Saina Nehwal
The tournament was an inspiring experience for Saina. It filled her with immense confidence. She knew what it takes to play an international tournament. After the game, there was a celebration. Anand Pawar, one of Saina’s team-mates had won the boy’s championship. Both players organized a dinner treat for the rest of team members and enjoyed. That night, Saina had chocolates to her heart’s fill.
By the age of 15, Saina started playing in the Seniors Nationals. The year was 2005 and lost it to Aparna Popat. Thereafter, she played for the Asian Satellite Badminton Tournament and won.
When it comes to enjoying top position in badminton, the kind of tournaments played by a player also matters. In Saina’s case, although she had started playing internationally, there was more to do on her part. It was time for her to focus on ‘big’ tournaments. This time, this young girl was eyeing at Uber Cup 2006 tournament. It was to be held in Jaipur.
The tournament started and Saina won every game she played. However, the team lost and couldn’t reach finals. She couldn’t do much. The loss was big but it couldn’t dampen the spirits of a young girl.
Despite the loss, Saina was determined to focus on the next big tournament. Her eyes were set on the Commonwealth Games 2006. She actually hoped to play in the tournament. So, Saina prepared herself for the game.
Aparna Popat was the main player in the tournament. Saina acted as a standby. Aparna being the senior-most player was assigned in every game. She got injured in one of the games. When the experts conformed that Aparna cannot play, Saina decided to contribute to the team. She informed her team coach Vimal Kumar about her willingness to play.
Although, Vimal Kumar knew Saina was a novice in the international arena, he gave her the green signal. This was Saina’s first ever ‘big’ match in the international arena. The tournament was difficult but Saina managed to reach the quarter-finals. Unfortunately, Xing Aiying (Singapore) won the match.
The team lost the tournament but it still earned a lot of popularity by winning a bronze. This was also the game where Saina got noticed as an international badminton player. Saina’s confidence was boosted to a great extent.
Saina followed this success with the Phillippine Open tournament. It was a big tournament indeed and Saina won gold. This was the big moment in the young player’s life but no one was present from India to commemorate the event other than her coach Bhaskar Babu. None of the players made it past the preliminary rounds. They had left for Indonesia, Jakarta to participate in Djarum Indonesia Open, another tournament. Saina celebrated her victory all alone in her room.
Saina won over Malaysian player Julia Wang. The World Number 66 player was beaten in straight sets. What’s more? The promising Indian player also won 9,000 USD. Unfortunately, Saina had little time to enjoy the money and nobody to join. Saina had to join the Indonesia team soon.
Joining the Indonesian team was a difficult phase in this dedicated player’s life. She couldn’t get through with her tickets. Hence, they were to be cancelled and book again. So, she decided to make her way to Manila. From there, she headed towards Jakarta and then finally made it to Malaysia. The tour was exhausting and extremely stressful. The tour matters are handled by a team manager. However, this time Saina has to take care of everything.
The exhausting long trip left with her no time to rest. This was also the reason she lost in the first round. The Indonesia Open started by stress and fatigue didn’t allow the player to have an upper hand on opponents. Saina wasn’t worried about this loss as she knew she had it her. And as a player, she knew victories and defeats were part of being in the court. But there was someone who had to do much about winning and losing tournaments more than Saina! It was the media – the same media that declared Saina as the rising sun of Indian badminton. Today, it didn’t take time to dash her down to the ground. The media had a lot to say about her defeat, the long tour, and mistakes she made.
The incident taught Saina many lessons. She knew that every move she made was observed by the media. The badminton player was now supposed to focus on what she says, wears, thinks, and opinionated.
After sometime, Saina had to participate in the Junior World Cup. The tournament was held at Seoul, Korea. Saina played well and made it to the finals. However, towards the end, she lost it to Wang Yihan. By this time, Saina’s career was at par with the top ranked badminton player in India, Aparna.
The journey ahead had many more challenges. In 2007, Saina participated in the Malaysia Open. The start was smooth and she managed to reach the quarter-finals. She flew straight to Patna from Kuala Lumpur. Here, she participated in the Senior National Championships.
In the month of March, Saina was supposed to play for a ‘big ticket’ game. It was the All England Tournament. But as a player, Saina lost it to the second round. The loss was disheartening to the young girl who was dreaming of making it big in the badminton arena.
Saina came back to India where the All India National Games was waiting for her. She won gold. Her victory was recorded both in individual and team events. However, she longed to carve a niche in the international arena. It was not that she didn’t get any chance to pay. In fact, in 2007 she got many chances to play for internationally. She went to Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Denmark, Korea, China, Macau, France, Chinese Taipei and many more. However, none of the tournaments saw her surviving past first or second round. The year was quite tragic for Saina as a player.
There was a lot of pressure on her from the media, country, mentors, and the team to carry forward previous victory records. But the more she tried, more difficult it seemed for her to win. Her record breaking lows were making it hard for her to move ahead.
The record breaking defeat of Saina was enjoyed by the media. It got some news to feed the readers. It tagged her previous victories as a fluke. The leading newspaper of India that appreciated her achievements and filled pages about her success was busy making news out of her defeat.
At this point of time, Saina’s family stood by her. The year 2007 was slump for Saina. She had to go through a lot. Luckily, she got some support from the Mittal Champions Trust. She was signed on by the Champions Trust of Lakshmi Mittal, London-based steel baron that wanted to help her become an international champion.
Finally, the year ended and Saina knew that the next year is going to be significant for her career. The Olympics in Beijing was supposed to be a big event. She was ranked at number 23.
Saina qualified for the Olympics. It was a great moment for her. There were three rounds which she had to qualify. She beat Gryga Larysa from Ukraine, Ella Karachkova from Russia, and Wang Chen from Hong Kong and made it to the quarter-finals. For her, each round came as a big battle. This was a memorable moment for her and the entire country because it was the first time an Indian player made it to the quarter finals. All eyes were on Saina. But unfortunately, she lost it to Maria Kristin Yulianti from Indonesia.
In an interview, when she was asked what went wrong in the third game, she replied, “I could not read the drift once I changed sides. On many occasions, I expected her shuttle to land outside and left it only to see it land inside. I just could not read that. That also explains why I knocked a few shots wide and long.”
This was Saina’s maiden Olympic trip. It went down to 28-26 14-21.
Now, every badminton player dreams of pushing for the international circuit after carving a rock solid niche at the national level. These players yearn for making it big at the Super Series and the Grand Prix.
The Super Series
The Super Series for badminton can be compared to the Grand Slam in tennis. No wonder these are the most sought after series among aspiring and established players. The BWF Super Series is a badminton tournament introduced by Badminton World Federation (BWF) in order to improve the quality of the sport. It was launched on December 14, 2006 and implemented in 2007. The tournament is played in eleven countries (China hosts two events), with successful players invited to the Super Series final held at the year end. There are about thirteen tournaments in the super series category. These are spread throughout the years.
The next most important ones are the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Gold.
There are two levels of Grand Prix Events – Grand Prix and Grand Prix Gold. These are individual events.
World Grand Prix Events have singles (men/women) and doubles (men/women/mixed) competitions and are open to all badminton players who are members of their respective national associations affiliated to the BWF.
Grand Prix tournaments are classified as Level 3 events, one below Super Series. The highest level of Grand Prix event is the Grand Prix Gold with a prize pool of US $120,000 minimum and Grand Prix with US$ 50,000 minimum. All Grand Prix events offer ranking points to players according to the classification of each tournament.
The Grand Prix events are gaining much popularity with Member Associations and the growth of the sport was again clearly demonstrated with a significant increase in Grand Prix tournaments. In 2011, 12 Member Associations successfully hosted the Grand Prix Gold while 4 Member Association hosted the Grand Prix events providing players with the opportunity to win a total of USD $1,805,000 in prize money.
Playing in India is all about participating in the Commonwealth Games, The Asian Games, and Olympics. This means there are about thirty-five or more international tournaments to play in a year. But sometimes, it is impossible for a player to play them all. All they can do is try to perform well in the games they are fortunate enough to take part in.
So in 2008, Saina did the same. She tried her best to get the taste of victory in the Chinese Taipei open and won. It is rated as the one of the most prestigious Grand Prix tournaments. The same year, Saina also made it to the Super Series Finals. She was the semi finalist in the series. So this way, the slow-moving 2007 in Saina’s life saw a new dramatic turn with the advent of 2008. She was busy with tournaments, championships and much more. This time, she was being observed as a serious player both by the media and badminton fans.
The year 2008 and its busy routine was just the start in Saina’s life. There was a lot to look forward to in the coming years. After all, she had trained a lot and had worked really hard to be a part of this game. It is the perfect time to reap rewards.
Saina ranked 200 and suddenly she climbed up to 28th position. This was indeed a huge achievement. Her major goal was to be ranked in the top 10 category. By the grace of Almighty and her consistent efforts, Saina’s dream came true in the year 2008.
Breaking into the world’s top ten was Saina Nehwal’s long-time dream, and she gave herself till the end of 2008 to reach there. On Thursday, the teenage sensation achieved both with a measure of comfort. With four weeks still left in 2008, Saina made the No 10 spot her own on the latest Badminton World Federation rankings. And by January 2009, she moved up one place and reached the number 9 position.
Saina continued her winning ritual and in 2009, she became the first Indian woman to win Indonesia Super Series. She also won the India Open Grand Prix.
So, when she walked into the P. Gopichand Badminton Academy in the evening, she was greeted like a superstar. The trainees, coaches, friends and well-wishers broke into an instantaneous applause. Receiving the accolades shyly and thanking everyone demurely, the girl got down to business straightaway. She tightened her shoe laces and began to warm up even before the din around her had died down completely.
In an interview followed by the tournament, Saina had said, “Celebrations can wait, but going through the regular grind is the most important thing for a player.”
Of course, Saina savour this moment and considered it as the most precious moment of her life. But she did not let her emotions get the better of her, especially in public. The best thing about Saina was that she remained the same regardless of her performance in a tournament. Whether it is victory, joy, defeat, or disappointment, the girl would just be the same.
In an interview for a renowned newspaper in India, Saina admitted that she was thrilled when her father called her up to announce her latest accomplishment.
She said, “I felt I was on top of the world when papa called.”
After this event, Saina was declared as the first Indian woman to achieve this feat in the era of new world rankings.
Her coach Gopichand was very excited to learn this achievement.
Gopichand said in an interview, “I always believed that Indian players are extremely talented but are not being offered good coaching. When I took over as coach, my important aim was to see a few Indian names in the top ten list. Saina started this process and I am confident that a few more will reach there soon.”
Saina became the second Indian woman to achieve this feat in the history of world badminton. Ami M. Ghia was the first to break into the top-10 of the Grand Prix world rankings in the year 1983.
The achievement served as the icing on the cake in a year in which she reached the quarter-finals of the Beijing Olympics and won the Chinese Taipei Open, her second Grand Prix crown and also reached the semis of the Singapore Super Series and the China Masters Super Series. The 18-year-old also won the Youth Commonwealth Games and the World Junior Championships in Pune.
Saina’s best year was 2010. This was the year in which she climbed up to the Number 2 position. It was the first time an Indian woman secured this position in the field of badminton. Saina holds an amazing quality. She just remembers the good times in her career that gives her a boost. The slump was erased from her memory. Saina just remembered her achievements, landmarks, trophies, and wins. She just relished being on top and getting accolades from fans.
Saina was proud to be an Indian and winning for her country was a pleasure. People had suddenly started to take notice of her. The entire world expected India to produce top badminton player. And Saina was definitely their choice.
For this budding badminton player, each victory counts. She also valued the accolades offered to her. The most prestigious one came in the form of Arjuna Award in the year 2009. This was soon followed by the Indonesia Open and the Chinese Taipei Gold Grand Prix. The moment was more special for her as Mr. Pullela Gopichand, her present coach was honoured with the Dronacharya Award.
In January 2010, Dr. Harvir Singh received a call. Saina considers this call as once in a lifetime. The call came from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The man informed Dr. Harvir Singh that his daughter was going to be honoured with Padma Shri and if she accept it. The call was dream come true for Dr. Harvir Singh. He was elated and conveyed the acceptance.
Incidentally, the following day was Republic Day and the news channels kept themselves busy reporting about Padma Shri winners. Saina’a name was endorsed with pride and the whole nation was singing her glorious achievements.
The award ceremony was conducted on 25th May. The young badminton player was happy to be at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The awardees were seated at the Durbar Hall of the Bhawan. The families were seated on the opposite side. Saina was honoured by the President of India, Pratibha Patil.
According to Saina, the president never spoke to the awardees. But as she went up the dais to receive the award, Ms. Patil informed her that she used to play table tennis. Saina was stunned and couldn’t react. Ms. Patil also added that Saina’s performance was not up to the mark at the Olympics. She also advised Saina to play well the next time. This was undoubtedly the happiest moment of her life.
The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award is the closest to her heart. This is India’s highest honour given for achievement in sports. The term “Khel Ratna” means “sports gem” in Hindi. The award is named after the late Rajiv Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India. It carries a medal, a scroll of honour and a substantial cash component.
The award was instituted in the year 1991-92 to supply the lack of a supreme national accolade in the field of sports. Predating the RGKR are the Arjuna Awards that have always been given to outstanding sportspersons in each of many sporting disciplines every year. The Khel Ratna was devised to be an overarching honour, conferred for outstanding sporting performance, whether by an individual or a team, across all sporting disciplines in a given year.
Only one among all sportspersons each year is selected for the award. For Saina, this precious moment arrived in the year 2010. After all, she deserved the award. The badminton player experienced a heart touching movement when both houses of the Indian Parliament gave her a standing ovation in December 2011. Another ovation followed in March 2012.
Some Special Moments
in Saina’s Career
Every sport star has special moments in his or her career. Super shuttler of India, Saina Nehwal is no different. She has played many tournaments and championships since she was a child. She definitely holds some special unforgettable memories with many of these tournaments. Here is a description of some of the most special moments in Saina Nehwal’s career.
The Junior Czech Open
The tournament was held in the year 2003. This was the beginning of Saina’s career. She believes that this game made her famous. Winning the Under-19 tournament in the international circuit was a dream. After this game, Saina was recognized as an international player. This was actually the starting of good things in Saina’s career.
The Philippine Open
The Philippine Open in badminton is an international open held in the Philippines since 2006. Saina Nehwal created history when she became the first Indian woman player to win a four-star badminton tournament. She defeated Julia Xian Pei Wong of Malaysia 21-15, 22-20 in the women’s singles final of the Philippines Open at Pasig City, Manila.
In an interview, Saina said “I am delighted and never expected to win such a big event so soon. My ultimate target is to win the All England championship one day.”
World Junior Badminton Championships
The BWF World Junior Championships is also known as the World Junior Badminton Championships. It is a tournament organized by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to crown the best junior badminton players (under-19) in the world. The 2008 BWF World Junior Championships took place in Pune, India, from 29th October to 2nd November 2008. This is renowned as a very prestigious tournament. Saina worked really hard to win this tournament.
Saina’s victory was a matter of pride for India. It was actually the victory for Indian Sports. With this game, Saina Nehwal became the first Indian to win badminton Super Series Title. In this game, Saina played really well. She varied her dribbles and flicks so well. She ran her rival around with a very tantalizing and beguiling mix and controlled the net play.
Indonesia Open 2009, 2010, and 2012
The 2009 Indonesia Open Super Series was the sixth tournament of 2009 BWF Super Series badminton tournament. It was held from June 16 to June 21, 2009 in Indonesia. Saina Nehwal scripted history by becoming the first Indian to win a Super Series tournament after she clinched the Indonesian Open title with a stunning victory over higher ranked Chinese Lin Wang in Jakarta. Saina clinched her maiden Super Series title beating Wang 12-21, 21-18, 21-9 in an edge-of-the-seat thriller that lasted 49 minutes.
Saina Nehwal during the women’s singles final medal ceremony
at the Indonesian Open 2009 badminton competition
in Jakarta on June 21, 2009