Saina Nehwal approaches life and sport in a very business-like fashion. She walks fast, talks to the point and trains like a maniac. If you ask her about life outside the sport, she has to think and even after thinking, she zeroes in on training and it’s various variations.
But after winning the bronze at the London Olympics, Saina allowed herself a rare luxury — she took a break. She ate her laddoos and parathas; she attended functions celebrating her medal; she celebrated as she never had before.
“There were a lot of functions and I attended most of them, I don’t deny it. It was a time for celebration for me and the country as well. I had just won the first ever badminton medal for the country and I really wanted to enjoy it with them,” Saina told Firstpost in an exclusive interview just after her win in the French Open quarter-finals. “I realise that without their support; without them egging me on I wouldn’t have been so successful.”
Just last week, Saina had won the Denmark Open. It was her first tournament after the break and her win showed that being away from the sport had allowed her to recharge her batteries.
“I think it’s very important. The game has become quicker; a little faster and it’s very tiring for the legs,” said Saina. “But as I’ve said out schedule is very tough, we have to play around 16-17 tournaments a year but we have to find time for training as well, so that we can come back strongly in the next tournament otherwise everyone is going to be tired and their legs and hands will be taped and it’s never easy.”
The French Open has not been an easy ride for her though. Even last night, she beat out her 17-year-old Thai opponent Ratchanok Intanon 22-20, 22-20 in two tough games.
“I am happy that I am pulling out matches. It’s tough but the matches are like that. I have to be mentally tough,” said the Indian star.
But what is she thinking about in tough situations?
“Nothing really. For me, I just have to win. Even if I am match point down, I just want to give it everything. I just want to win. Of course, every player wants to win but it comes down to mental strength in the end. I think I am happy that I am managing to come through big matches with all the top players.”
Rankings, on the other hand, generally don’t mean much to top players but everytime you improve your ranking, it serves as positive affirmation.
“It’s a big thing to be world number three again. For a year, I was World number 4 so being able to get back to three is a great relief but I also know that now it’s going to get even tougher for me. I hope to climb higher in the rankings now.”
But with the ranking and the medal, there comes a certain amount of pressure. It’s part of the territory.
“It’s a question, I get asked a lot. If I play under pressure, of course I won’t be able to play very well. But I like to think that I play well, I win tournaments. Of course, there is pressure. If you put all the best players in a tournament, of course there will be pressure,” said Saina. “It’s just there, you have to find your own way of dealing with it.”
But despite all the hype that surrounds her every move in India, Saina still believes she is one of the girls; one of the girls trying to beat the Chinese.
“It’s a very difficult game for everyone except China. So we are trying to be the best we can, trying to beat them and I am one of them,” she said.
You can watch the entire interview in the video above.