Meet Saina Nehwal's biggest fans: The Saina Squad
In the wintIer of 2015, Saina Nehwal was all set to go to Dubai to compete in the Dubai Superseries Finals. Accompanying her were not just her coaches and her trainer, but also a special group of fans.
An initiative by the tournament broadcaster-Star Sports saw the emergence of the ’Saina Squad’, a special bunch of die-hard Saina Nehwal fans, who were selected after several rounds of quizzing and much more to go to Dubai to support their favourite star.
Sportskeeda caught up with a few member of the squad who were on that trip to tell us about the experience and more.
How did you find out about the Saina Squad: I am quite active on social media. I have been on Twitter and Facebook. I follow the Star Sports handle, where they post regular score updates. They ran a contest to select this squad. They had a preliminary round, where there were 5 different rounds. I gave my best in the opening round itself. It was basically a quiz about Saina, and anybody who follows her could crack it easily.
Around 20 were to be shortlisted from 5 rounds and I got shortlisted in the 1st round.
Since when have you been following her career: I would say from the time she became Junior champion. The reason being that most of us play the sport, just that no one takes it up as a professional sport. I have been following her career for about 10 years.
The Dubai Superseries Finals experience and match against Carolina Marin: It was the best experience. I am not sure if all of you saw the TV highlights.Nowadays, Saina vs Marin is the epic showdown. It is slowly getting into the India vs Pakistan sort of territory. Of course, that is a different level altogether, but it’s a match that everybody looks forward.
Saina had suffered a loss in the competition, and we found out from the broadcasters that the concept of the Saina squad came up when the two were competing in a tournament and in the match, a group of supporters were cheering Marin and that got her all pumped up and eventually she won.
So they felt that the badminton champs in India don't get as much support when they play abroad. We were quite pumped up about the match and to our surprise, even Saina began to show emotions. Normally, she goes about her work in a very calm manner, but that wasn’t the case that night. Eventually, the game panned out very well and it was a great night.
Since when have you been following Saina’s career: I used to play a lot of badminton and I have been following her for quite some time. I have read both her books and I have put my views on my blog as well. I have read Gopichand’s book as well. I try to go for tournaments as well.
What I like about her is her ability to fight back and maintain that high level of consistency. To maintain that is not easy. She was suffering an ankle injury for a while, but I think now she has recovered and the Australian Open triumph I feel has come at the right time for her.
The match against Marin: The opportunity to go to Dubai came through Star Sports and the moment she Saina entered, we began cheering for her. From the opening point, we started to support her. Marin, as we know has the habit of shrieking. So we had to double our volume in support of Saina.
We had ‘Saina Squad’ T-Shirts with us and we also gave to some of the audience. We had banners prepared with chants written on it. The venue was jam-packed and there were many Indians inside as well.
A day before the match, we git a chance to meet her. It was an amazing feeling. After the Marin match, we waited for her and after a while, she came and thanked us for the support.
The experience of watching Saina play at the Dubai Superseries Finals: It was a dream come true for me after watching a live Saina match, that also in Dubai at Hamdan Sports Complex. When we reached the hotel where Saina was put up, we, the Saina squad were very much excited about the moment. We were taken into a hall and were wait for sometime. When Saina came, we all ran towards her. She was also very excited having a squad of her own meet her for the first time. We spent more than an hour with Saina and took photographs, autographs and shared our excitement how much by giving beautiful gifts.
We arrived at the stadium on 9th December 2015 around 11 AM and had few media coverages, spent time on games entertainment and then entered in the stadium. Prior to Saina’s match, we also rooted for Kidambi Srikanth, who was playing Kento Momota, but he couldn't win. When Saina played against Okuhara, we were cheering her loudly from the stands.
We all knew that Saina had not recovered from her injury and she was struggling a bit against Okuhara. After the match, we were all very sad and went to the hotel and discussed her loss.
We knew that against Marin, it was a must-win for Saina and so decided to increase our sounds with new chants and support by cheering “ Sainaaa sainaaa“. The new chants (karegi Kamaal.. Saina Nehwal) worked out and she won the match 23-12, 9-21 and 21-12. We know this was the moment all Saina fans were expected. After the match, Saina met us out of the stadium and thanked us. She added that the support of the Saina Squad played a key role in her winning the match.
The next day when she lost against Tzu Ying Tai in yet another must-win tie, we were really heartbroken. But the win against Marin was highlighted by all media even though Saina was not 100% fit.
About Saina’s chances at Rio: After winning the Australian Open we are very much confident that Saina would give her best in the Rio Olympics. We feel she has 100% recovered from injury. We also feel she has the chance to win Gold at Rio.
About whether the Saina Squad plans to go the Olympics: We are very much eager to watch her play at the Rio Olympics. However, the travel expenses are very high and we are unable to manage from our side, its practically not possible to go and support her at Rio. But we expect some sponsors come forward and help us to watch Rio matches.