Ace badminton player Saina Nehwal , ranked world No. 5 and India’s top player, is training hard towards the upcoming London Olympics. Speaking with Arun Sharma , Saina described her training regimen, how she spends her leisure time, her aim to beat the world’s best – and why, despite badminton being popular across India, we don’t produce more champions of the game:
When did you start playing badminton? As your interest deepened, did you face difficulties sustaining this?
I started playing badminton when i was nine years old. Initially, there were some problems pertaining to finance, but now everything is fine. I am employed by Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited and also sponsored by a few companies in India…badminton has been my best investment in life actually since it involves only talent and not a lot of money.
As the London Olympics approach now, are you working on a special training regimen?
Well, it’s almost the same ground i’m covering daily under the guidance of my coach, Gopi Chandji. I am working very hard preparing for the forthcoming Olympics.
Can you tell us a little about your training schedule?
I train for six to seven-and-a-half hours daily, across three sessions spread over the morning, noon and evening hours. We have a set of schedules called on-court and off-court with weightlifting, agility and stamina-building exercises. We work on these at least six days of the week usually.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I don’t really have much leisure time! It’s badminton training most days…on holidays, i get a little more sleep and maybe watch a Hollywood movie.
Badminton is such a popu-lar sport in India – yet, we have very few international-level players of the game. Where do we miss out on honing champions in this sport?
Yes, badminton is popular here – but it’s played by most of us basically for health and fitness reasons in our homes, clubs or academies, not really for competition. Very few of us play seriously for competition. The sport has to be played intensively and competitively, only then will it become more serious and reach an inter-national level. More efforts are required to take the game to that level.
At 22 years, you’re one of the youngest players we’ve had – does the intense pressure of high-level competitions affect you?
Yes. I do become quite emotional when i come under pressure. But this feeling also goes as soon as i gain momentum.
Meanwhile, you’ve been signed up by Olympic Gold Quest, the non-profit venture set up to support sports and athletes in India. Has this group helped in your work?
They’ve given all the assistance which has not been given by the Sports Authority of India or the Badminton Association of India. They provide assistance for my physiotherapy, they provide technical aid and financial help in the form of equipment that’s needed for my practice.
Finally, are the Chinese your toughest opponents today?
Well, i have beaten almost all the Chinese players in the top tournaments i’ve played, but yes, it is tough to overcome them. I have not beaten the world No. 1 Wang Yihan. I actually lost to her in very close encounters. I do wish to beat all of them – and i’m doing my best.