Saina Nehwal - The pride of India
Badminton is one of the popular sports in India. In the alleys and on the roadside, one can see many people play it, just like cricket. Buying colourful shuttlecocks and the plastic ones so that they last long has been a craze amongst Indian kids since time immemorial.
Though it is the second most-played sport in India after cricket, hardly few of them actually take it up as a profession. This reluctance to make a career out of it acts as a major factor in the dearth of athletes in India.
However, badminton has always produced some of the best household names ever since Prakash Padukone came on the scene after becoming the first Indian to win the All England Championship in 1980. Since then, quite a few athletes have made their name in India and abroad alike. But the one person who has remarkably stood out in the last few years is the prodigious Saina Nehwal.
Saina Nehwal has become the face of Indian badminton in the past few years. Ever since she became the under-19 national champion and created history by winning the prestigious Asian Satellite Badminton tournament (India Chapter) twice, becoming the first player to do so, there has been no stopping her. She has gone on to win a lot of tournaments, from a four-star tournament like the Philippines Open to the bronze at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
She is not just a player, but a warrior. This applies in literal terms too. Her self-belief has helped her penetrate the Chinese and the Korean armies in women’s badminton, which were once considered invincible. In her autobiography, ‘Playing To Win’, she has said that she never thinks that she is up against a formidable Korean or Chinese. Whenever she plays them, she keeps reminding herself of the fact that she has defeated seniors who were 23-24 when she was just 13.
So, what makes her different from the other female athletes out there? Her will to work harder even after defeats. Even after the disappointing quarterfinal loss at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she started her practice from the very next day. Normally, when sportspersons suffer heartbreaking defeats, they usually take a break from their routine and find time for themselves just to recover from the defeats. But Saina’s way of dealing with failures is different.
One can listen to Saina Nehwal’s interviews or what her coach Pullela Gopichand has to say of his obedient student; it will be amazing to hear that she has never missed a practice session or tried to take a shortcut in her training. Her day starts off at 6 AM, and she knows that following the work ethic holds the key to achieving her goals. Even after her heart-crushing loss in the quarterfinals at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, when she was asked to report for practice the following day by Gopichand at 6 AM, all she requested was – “Can we start at seven instead of six?” (Taken from the book – Saina Nehwal: An Inspirational Biography by Sudhir T S.)
Her conviction, perseverance, endurance, and most importantly, her work ethic are what make her stand out from the other sportspersons. Ever wondered where she gets these qualities from? They’re in her genes. Both, her father Dr. Harvir Singh and mother Usha Rani, were former State Badminton Champions in Haryana.
When we talk about the ups and downs, Saina has seen them all in her life. Saina was given just Rs. 300 as prize money after winning the under-10 state level competition held in Tirupati in 1999. Fast forward fifteen years, she is a millionaire now. In spite of her accomplishments, she is one of the most soft-spoken and modest people around.
Her road to stardom has been anything but instant. She has been around for a good nine years. But does one know her like, say, Virat Kohli? Ask the layman about him and he will quickly make references about his hair, his attitude, his style of play, and even his girlfriend Anushka Sharma. Ask the layman about Saina and he will probably have only two things to say – badminton and Gopichand. This is because she keeps such a low profile in public.
When you see the other sportspersons engaging themselves in all kinds of social gatherings, Saina, for once, will hardly be spotted among them. She herself agrees that she has no private life as she spends much of her time practising at the Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad. Such is her unrelenting dedication to what is most important for her.
Continual successes in the 80s were had by Prakash Padukone, and Pullela Gopichand made his name in the late 90′s. Now, Saina has raised the bar so high that she has made this era in badminton all hers. Her rise to fame has made her the most prominent non-cricketing sportsperson in the country, and has been one of the massive reasons for badminton becoming the second most popular sport in India. She is a recipient of a number of awards, and deservedly so, namely the Arjuna Award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, and Padma Shri Award.
She is always ready to lead from the front. Ahead of the Uber Cup in Delhi, she feels that the onus would be on her to boost the team’s confidence and get the momentum going by winning her first singles match. “First singles makes a lot of difference. It will be crucial for the players ahead. I have to be very focused. If I could perform well in my opening singles match, it will boost the confidence of others also,” Saina said at the launch of the tournament. Such is her profound desire to truimph.
At just 24 years of age, Saina Nehwal is still yet to hit her prime (25-30 years of age), as the pundits call it. However, her talent and hard work has helped her achieve the improbable. The prospect of her representing Indian badminton in at least two more Olympic Games seems lip-smacking, considering she already won her first bronze at the age of 22. No matter what competition she plays in, every Indian has their hopes high expecting a medal or a trophy from her. If she can keep up her form and stay fit, nothing can stop her from replicating her performances; and with the teenage sensation P. V. Sindhu following in her footsteps, they will surely bring more glory to India in the years to come.