MUMBAI: Saina Nehwal sparkled at a felicitation organised by Badminton45 and Bombay Gymkhana, one of a string of functions affecting her training time.
It is a price performers have to pay for inspiring achievements, becoming the first Indian women badminton exponent to reach the world No. 6 ranking at 19.
She walked under an arch of badminton racquets formed by young girls, gave glimpses of power and stroke-making ability in an exhibition match, signed autographs, listened to praise and advise from the great Nandu Natekar and stepped on the stage to accept a cheque worth Rs. 2.5 lakh from Smt. Rajashree Birla.
Badminton45, a movement devoted to promoting badminton, assembled ex-internationals Aparna Popat, Ami Shah, Leroy DSa, Pradeep Gandhe and Shirish Nadkarni, to name a few in the august gathering applauding Saina for her Indonesian Open Super Series win and making the Chinese feel the pain of defeat.
Television highlights of the final match against Wang Lin were displayed on a giant screen at the Bombay Gymkhana courts, replayed at the beginning of the felicitation on Saturday night.
Saina’s answers to questions from Natekar was the most valuable performance of the night, giving her audience an insight into the mind of a champion.
Asked about the shortage of quality practice partners in India, compared to Chinese rivals with many world ranked players available for training, Saina quipped: “I have Gopi sir. He is the best training partner I can get,” she referred to long-time coach Pullela Gopi Chand under whose guidance she is preparing for the World senior badminton next month.
Saina revealed that over-anxiety led to her defeat in the Beijing Olympics singles. “The anxiety to win led to mistakes.”
Gopichand recalled walking back alongside her after the defeat, asking Saina about next morning’s training at six. “After such a horrendous loss, I expected her to say no. She surprised me by asking for a seven o’clock start, requesting one more hour to sleep.”
Natekar advised her to keep firmly on the ground, regardless of achievements. “Young badminton players look up to idols and are deeply influenced by them.”
Asked about pressure from parents, she replied: “They were very supportive, whether I was winning or losing. I must say that they kept me on my toes by saying that each victory was only a step forward.”