The icing on the cake for badminton ace Saina Nehwal was breaking into the world’s top 10…
India’s badminton ace Saina Nehwal has been in majestic form during the last six months. In August, she became the first Indian woman shuttler to reach the quarterfinal of the Olympics. In the process, Saina notched up the best win of her career, against world number five Wang Chen.
The 18-year-old then kept the momentum going to pocket the Chinese Taipei Open, the National title back home, the Commonwealth Youth Games gold medal and the World Junior title before winning the prestigious Most Promising Player award from the Badminton World Federation in December. The icing on the cake for the Hyderabadi was breaking into the world’s top 10.
Here on a promotional event, Saina shared her Olympics experience and her plans for the season ahead with Deccan Herald. Excerpts:
2008 was full of success for you, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was a fantastic year. At the start of the year, I was thinking about playing consistently. I really didn’t think about winning titles. But I had half a dozen trophies and several good victories to show when I ended the year. The Olympic quarterfinal berth, World Junior title, Commonwealth Youth gold and Chinese Taipei title have given me confidence for 2009. Breaking into the top-10 was the highlight of last year.
Tell us about your Olympic experience.
The Olympics was an awesome experience. It really excited me. I was living a dream when I entered the Games village. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I don’t know whether I can play in the London Olympics. All I can say is that the Beijing experience boosted my confidence. Before the Games, I was short of confidence. I thought I couldn’t beat top-class players. The belief that I could beat top players took root when I beat Chen. I also learned to keep my head high even in defeat.
Which loss hurt you the most, and why?
I can easily say the Olympic quarterfinal loss to world No 16 Maria Kristin Yulianti of Indonesia. It hurt me because I was so close to realising my dream of an Olympic medal. I was leading, then I lost my way in between. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps God didn’t want me to win a medal.
The Philippines Open triumph in 2006 was the turning point in your career. Can you describe the journey after that?
It was an unexpected win. Nothing was going right that year. I was totally upset with myself. I even doubted my talent that season. But my parents and Gopi(chand) sir told me to relax. After that, I started to enjoy my game instead of worrying about the results. I came out of that tough time and today I am enjoying the game.
Your memorable win and title? And which title are you most desperate for?
The victory against Wang Chen of Hong Kong is the most memorable. I rate the World Junior championship title as the best. An Olympic gold medal is the dream I have been carrying from my childhood.
No other title can satisfy me. I will put all my effort to win for that in the coming years. Hopefully, in London, I will be able to realise my dream.
What makes the Chinese, Indonesians and Malaysians dominate world badminton?
They have a good system to find the talent from a young age. A lot of youngsters are taking up the sport in China. One factor that separates them from the rest is their stamina and speed. We also have good players coming up.
Now that you are in the top-10, what are the challenges ahead?
The challenges are to maintain the level of consistency I am showing now, improve my ranking to top five and if possible try for the number one spot. I still have a long way to go to even start thinking about number one ranking. My aim is to try to do my best whenever I play and keep improving my game.
I have had a good start to 2009. I reached the semifinals of the Super Series in Korea. Now I am looking forward to the All England Championship in March and then the World Championship in Hyderabad.