Getting lost in Saina's shadow

By Aparna Popat

There are times when you work really hard, sincerely, stretch yourself beyond the limit and eventually achieve more than what was originally expected of you. You win! You are euphoric and satisfied. But wait, in your moment of triumph, you are told that your performance is not good enough.

Young shuttler P Kashyap won a men's singles bronze medal for India at the Commonwealth Games 2010. Guru Sai Dutt, just 20, a silver medallist at the Indian Open 2010 and former bronze medallist at the Junior World Championship got the better of World no. 5, Boonsak Ponsana at the India Open Super Series last week.

At the same event, the talented Sourabh Verma had a wonderful run reaching the quarterfinals scalping Olympic bronze medallist Sony Dwi Kuncuro and All-England runner-up Kenichi Tago along the way. Two promising juniors Sai Praneeth and PV Sindhu are making waves on the international junior circuit. Established doubles specialist Jwala Gutta playing with the upcoming Ashwini Ponnappa struck gold in women's doubles at the Commonwealth Games 2010.

These performances by themselves are no mean feats. Considered in totality, one would say that Indian badminton is looking up. Yet, these shuttlers are not household names. They might have stolen our hearts with their performances but they don’t find a serious mention in discussions about badminton.

 Getting lost in Sainas shadow

A file picture of P Kashyap (L), Saina Nehwal and Jwala Gutta. Noah Seelam/AFP

Today, badminton is synonymous with one name – Saina Nehwal. The golden girl has put up extraordinary performances over the past few years and has a good chance of attaining the number one spot in the world.

Saina is a tremendous inspiration to all sportspersons alike and more so to the up and coming players of the next generation. However, sharing the limelight with Saina, is something that one would rather not be subjected to. In other words, almost all the attention is bestowed only upon her.

So one may wonder what it would be like to perform under the shadow of Saina Nehwal.

As it is often said – attitude matters. It is very easy for one to be inspired if in a positive frame of mind. Saina has provided ample examples indicating that it is possible to be among the best. These players surely feel a surge of self-belief because of this. The impossible becoming an ‘i-m-possible’ attitude. As most of these players train alongside her, they can experience that intensity at training first hand. They surely realise that this is the only route to success. So in a sense, they see the unfinished goods translate into bigger, beastier, the best.

Saina won fame, sponsorships and more importantly the best of facilities that simply followed after her stupendous performances.  The sport was brought to the forefront. Like a backhanded compliment, all the players in the fraternity rode on her success. They should be thankful for that.

But somewhere in this process, their ego is hurt; somewhere in the process, they wonder ‘Why only her?’

You want to earn on your own merit. You want to be recognised independently. An odd headline in the papers seems trivial when you see another feature in the headlines practically everyday. Even a bronze medal is forgotten as is the defeat of a world top-five player. If you are not mentally strong one might feel dejected at the thought. After all, lack of appreciation is a great demotivator.

So the rest of the players surely feel additional pressure to perform. They already have expectations of themselves and now Saina has set a benchmark – a rather tough one. Their extraordinary performances now all of a sudden seem ordinary. In such a scenario, it is very easy to give up and say that playing and performing is actually pointless because Saina is outshining us on every occasion.

Also, Saina commented after her first round shock defeat at the India Open Super Series last week that she was finding it hard to cope with the pressure of playing at the highest level as she was the only player from India in or around the top rankings.

She wished that there were other players from India to share her burden and expectations of winning. It was almost an open admission of her being superior to the rest – the mere mortals. Indirectly, making her fellow teammates feel small. Though some might say that this is a fact, this comment may seem bitter to those competing alongside her. After all, no one wants to be belittled.

However these youngsters are made of sterner stuff and we should give them due credit for that. They work extremely hard and have regularly churned out superb results. They are positive, self-assured, and physically ready to take on the toughest competition in the world. In spite of vying for attention they are sincere in their efforts and persevere to attain glory at the highest. This must be considered and lauded as it is not easy to play in the era of a great champion such as Saina.

Arjuna awardee Aparna Popat is a former world number 16. She was India’s national badminton champion for nine consecutive years from 1998 – 2006 and shares the record for most national titles won with the legendary Prakash Padukone.

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Updated Date: May 17, 2011 11:17:12 IST