It is extraordinary how Saina Nehwal brought an entire country together as she became India's first ever badminton player to win an Olympic bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. The 27-year-old shuttler has not only won many laurels for the country, but has also put badminton on the map in cricket-crazy India.
However, having been away from the scene for a while due to a knee injury which she sustained around last year's Rio Olympics, Saina has been facing her toughest battle — to regain her form and World No 1 crown. With many big tournaments like the Indonesia Open Superseries Premier coming up in the next months, Saina spoke about the cramped Badminton World Federation (BWF) schedule, her mental battle and the 'consistency' of China in badminton during a visit to Mumbai for 'Edelweiss Brain Bout 2017', an event organised by Edelweiss, of which she is the brand ambassador. Excerpts from an interview with Firstpost:
How has 2017 been for you? There have been lots of ups and downs. Not to mention that due to back-to-back tournaments, the schedule is really swamped. How are you feeling mentally?
I think I am very happy that I could emerge from this knee surgery and start playing again. Of course, it is not easy to come back so fast when you have such a major injury but I am trying my best. I am happy that I am able to train very well and am able to practice very hard. Of course, I am waiting for (good) results which take a little time. But once I start winning those tough matches, I am sure my confidence will return. I will be able to perform in back-to-back tournaments. We are used to playing so many tournaments in a year. In badminton and in tennis you have to play 20-25 tournaments in a year. So, we are used to this. But, at the same time, when you come out of a major injury, it takes a little time for you to be back to your best. But playing creates great happiness and I'm enjoying it. I'm sure that the results will come soon.
How has the journey been so far? What was going through your mind when you were under rehabilitation?
I was very upset because I wanted to play the Olympics and I had really prepared very well. And then suddenly I found out that there is a spur in my knee, that too in the last week of the tournament. I found out actually at the Olympics that I could not move at all on the court. It was very sad. If I knew I had this spur before the Olympics, I would not have gone. So, it hurts even more when you are there (Olympics) and you are not able to play matches. Then I got operated on and there were these three weeks of rest and two months of good rehab where I could not even move or play. Only gym, gym, and gym. That was a very tough time and if I remember it now, it was very painful because the only thing I was thinking about was when will I start playing and what will be my future from now on and the targets I have to set. So these were the things I was planning then but when I started playing it was all about working hard, getting to a good (level of) fitness and to get back the winning momentum. These are the goals that I have set. I'm not looking at anything else apart from being fit and getting back to winning ways.
Vimal Kumar sir mentioned that your challenge is more mental than physical...
It is definitely mental because, as I said, the confidence will come back when I start winning matches. At the same time, I need to be very strong physically like how I was. So, it’s not like once you are out for two or two and a half months and then again you lost that momentum altogether. So it is like a new beginning, to be moving freely on the court. When I see myself moving on the court, I can see that there is a little bit of a struggle and when things will open up automatically, the results will come. That is what is really lacking as of now. Of course, it is mental because the challenge is now about getting on from the surgery and (get) good training. The matches are getting very very close. All the matches I have lost to players like Sato Sayaka have been very close matches, going into three games. The thing is how you convert it.
Talking about the Chinese shuttlers, it’s no longer China vs China in the finals. What’s your take on the progress of Indian badminton?
India is, of course, doing very well. At the same time, all other countries — if you see Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon, Tai Tzu Ying from Chinese Taipei and also Carolina Marin from Spain — are playing extremely well. They want to win, they want to beat the Chinese players. It is not that the level has come down in any way but the others have got their standard (level) up to where they can also be equal to the Chinese players or beat them. So, it is a positive sign that badminton is growing over the world and everyone wants to play and win the tournament and of course to beat the Chinese players who are the powerhouses (of badminton). Everyone is really in great shape and they are challenging the Chinese.
What do think of the new breed of Chinese shuttlers like Sun Yu, Chen Yufei, and He Bingjiao, who have moved up the ladder ever since Li Xuerui, Wang Yihan quit?
I would say players like Li Xuerui, Wang Yihan, Wang Shixian, Wang Lin and Wang Zing were better players (than the new breed). They were faster and more technically gifted. The new ones are good, they might win some tournaments but they are not as consistent as the older generation. So that is the only difference, I think. He Bingjiao is of course 20, so they are still young.
She has won two big Superseries titles already...
But when Li Xuerui and others in her generation had come in at the age of 18 and 19, they started winning so many titles. You can’t compare the two generations. But still, they are young so we can tell that they have a lot of time. They have a very good crop of players.
Published Date: May 09, 2017 02:24 pm | Updated Date: May 09, 2017 04:05 pm