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Saina must be feeling very alone right now

A champion sees inconsistent days. The fame and adulation has one mounted in delight and then as form drops, the criticism is as bitter as it gets.

This was in 1996 when I returned to India after winning a silver medal at the World Junior Championships in Denmark - completely unexpected achievement as back then the Indian Junior team was sent for only one international tournament in a year and I was not even an underdog at that event. The achievement did not register until I reached back to Bangalore and found my friends, colleagues from the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy and my coaches at the airport to greet and congratulate me.

Well, thereafter there was a spring in my step. With press interviews and felicitations my self-confidence grew. Needless to say I got a bit overconfident.

At a training session two days later, my waltz was tripped. The legendary Prakash Padukone, my coach then, came and reminded me in his typical soft spoken tone that the World Junior tournament was over and I was expected to act normal and focus on what lay ahead.

Poof! The euphoria was all gone.

It was all hard to digest. A little bit of anger mixed with self-pity and ego thrown in left a tart aftertaste. I was tempted to get defensive and defiant but I couldn’t looking at the stature of Prakash Padukone.

In that instant, I felt I matured a bit.

Perhaps all Saina needs is a change of pace. Reuters

Perhaps all Saina needs is a change of pace. Reuters

This was just shifting from the fourth gear to a neutral position. Then life got harder.

The Senior All-India Ranking tournament was held at New Delhi two weeks after that “gentle” reminder. The court conditions did not suit my game and I seemed to be out of form. Then the critique started – Hers was a one-off achievement, not as good expected, fluke win etc.

In a desperate attempt to prove myself, I over strained my shoulder, got over-defensive at press interviews and was tempted to concede my next match – In all modesty that was completely out of character.

Does a champion ever cry?

Yes, of course.

Alone but!

I surely felt alone and I am sure there were tears. It seemed like I had forgotten how to play and was second-guessing my every instinct about the game. What was an 18-yr old like me to do besides get frustrated! How could the very same training techniques and preparation work for me a fortnight ago and suddenly feel inadequate!

I lost the tournament. On the verge of agreeing with the critics, my self-confidence hit rock-bottom.

A week later, I played a similar tournament in Chandigarh – the same opponents, the same press and the same badminton fraternity around me. Yet I managed to turn things around. After winning I grit my teeth and punched my fist in the air. I had proven something to myself.

And believe it or not, all it took was but one session of training of a technique I didn’t use very often that turned the tables around. And sometimes that’s all it takes. It can be as simple as that.

Aparna Popat.

With Saina Nehwal’s world ranking slipping one place from World No.4, the confidence of the fans has slipped too. Her performance in 2011 has come under the scanner. A Swiss Open title and finals of the Malaysian and Indonesian Opens have been the best she has managed with a month left in the calendar year.

Saina is a great champion. She must and will bounce back. Her resilience and focus shall see her winning more tournaments soon. So there is no point in doubting her abilities because she is as good as it gets.

Also, closing in on the Olympics, one has to up their game a level or two for the grand event. At the level Saina is playing, the only way that is possible is if you do something different from the normal routine. So during this period of trying something new, your performance can sink a bit. As I say, as long as you know what is causing the loss of form, there’s no cause to worry as you can always rectify it. I am sure Saina and her team of trainers knows what she is up to and there is a solid plan in place.

Remember, sometimes it takes just a couple of training sessions to get you to click and find form. It can be as simple as that.

The Olympics comes once in 4 years. It is the summit of most sportspersons careers. Its make or break time. The pressure is building as are our expectations.

I can empathize with what Saina is going through. Not very long ago the headlines praised her performances and now they fretting about her form. We all want an Olympic medal from Saina and I’m dead sure that she wants that too and a little more. These days are tough on her. The self esteem may be hit and the maturity tested like never before. But there is no cause for alarm.

As it’s said, “The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.”

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