Saina Nehwal broke many a barrier in 2015 by putting in exceptional performances on the world stage. The 25-year-old became the first Indian women shuttler to enter the final of the All England Championships, became the first Indian women shuttler to be ranked number 1 in the world and also became the first Indian to enter the final of a World Championships.
The Hisar-born athlete, who also has a record 9 national titles, a feat she shares with Aparna Popat, will be next seen in the Premier Badminton League, where she will play for the Lucknow-based Awadhe Warriors.
Here are 10 things to know about her:
1.Saina Nehwal was born on March 17th 1990 in Hisar, Haryana to Dr Harvir Singh and Usha Rani. Her father is a Principal Scientist (Agricultural Entomology), Directorate of Oilseeds Research, Rajendranagar, ICAR in Hyderabad. Saina also has an older sister Abu Chandranshu Nehwal.
2.Saina began playing the sport at the age of 9 and credits her parents for backing her to play the sport at such a tender age. She and her father would travel 25kms each day in the morning for practice.
3.She first came into the limelight in the year 2006, when as a 16-year-old she won the National U19 Championships and then made history by clinching the Asian Satellite Badminton Championships, not once, but twice. She also finished as a runner-up at the World Junior Championships, that year, losing to Wang Yihan in the final.
4.She further rewrote history at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, becoming the first Indian shuttler to enter the quarterfinals at the Summer Games. Following that, she won the Chinese Taipei Open, beating Lydia Cheah Li Ya in the final. She rounded the year off by reaching the semifinals of the World Superseries Finals and was adjudged “The Most Promising Player” for 2008.
5.2009 saw more history being scripted as Saina became the first Indian to win a Superseries title, winning the Indonesia Open, by beating China’s Wang Lin in three games in the final. She also reached the quarterfinals of the Badminton World Championships that year, that took place in Hyderabad. She was also awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna for the year 2009-10.
6.2010 saw the Indian scale further heights as she became the first Indian women shuttler to enter the semifinals of the All England Open and then captained the women’s side to the quarterfinals of the Uber Cup. However, her crowning glory came in October, when she won the Gold in the Women's Singles at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010, beating Wong Mew Choo of Malaysia in the final. This is what she had to say after her win.
“When I was a match-point down, it was like a shock. It was a big match and winning it means a lot to me. Even many years from now, those present here will always remember how Saina won the gold. It is a proud feeling,”
7.She then went a step higher at the London Olympics two years later, becoming the first Indian ever to win a medal at the Games, clinching the bronze after Wang Xin of China retired from the match due to a knee injury with the tie at 18-21 0-1 in favour of the China.
"I still can`t believe that I have won a medal. In badminton, I never believed that India could win a medal because the competition is so tough. It is a dream come true for me," she said after the match.
8.Saina clinched her second India Open title after beating fellow countrywomen P V Sindhu in the final and then later that year won the China Open Superseries, also becoming the first Indian ever to do so.
9.It, was, however, 2015, that will go down in history books as the year that saw Indian badminton write new chapters thanks largely to Saina. The shuttler entered the final of the All-England Championships and the Badminton World Championships. In addition to that, she was crowned World No.1 in April, thereby becoming the first Indian women shuttler to achieve that feat.
"When I joined the sport, I never thought of becoming world No. 1. It was only my mom's dream who would say, 'Saina you have to get an Olympic medal for me. That's it. Not World No. 1'. But today, I feel like 'Oh my God, world No. 1. Obviously, it's huge."
10.She rounded off 2015 with a disappointing finish at the Dubai Superseries Finals, where she failed to make it to the semifinals, but provided much joy to her ever growing fan base, by beating Carolina Marin in her second group match in a cracking three-game affair.
A big Shah Rukh Khan fan and a brown belt in Karate
1.Away from the court, Saina is a massive Shah Rukh Khan fan and had the chance to meet him earlier this year.
2.Despite having a rigorous training schedule, Saina always tries to catch a new Bollywood or Hollywood movie every Friday which helps her shift her mind away from the game.
3.Saina is a brown belt in karate.
4.One of the things Saina misses after having shifted base to Bengaluru from Hyderabad is driving around in her BMW 3-Series which was gifted to her by Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar after she won the bronze at the London Olympics.
With a World ranking of Number 2 that looks unlikely of going through a steep fall, Saina remains perhaps the only Indian on course for a ticket to Rio.
Biggest challenges: From the Indian contingent, PV Sindhu will definitely be someone she will have to weary of. The Chinese have always reigned supreme at the biggest event of them all and so Saina will have to maybe the break the Chinese Wall for the nth time in order to win her second Olympic medal.Published 25 Dec 2015, 14:06 IST