From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.13 :: Apr. 01, 2010

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BADMINTON / INTERVIEW/SAINA NEHWAL

Girl with a mission

Saina Nehwal, who broke into the top five in world rankings recently, has set her sights on becoming not only World No. 1 but also the world champion. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

RAJEEV BHATT

Saina Nehwal receives the Arjuna Award from President Pratibha Patil.

India's ace badminton player Saina Nehwal turned 20 on March 17. And quite interestingly, a day after she celebrated her birthday with her family, she broke into the top five of the world rankings. So, it was another first by the Hyderabad player, who became the only Indian woman to go so high in the world rankings.

For someone who had created a record of sorts only recently by becoming the first Indian woman to enter the semifinals of the prestigious All England Championship and considering the form she has been in over the last three years, Saina has every reason to be confident. Her performance at the All England Championship, coming on the heels of her showing in the Uber Cup where she steered India to the finals, was praiseworthy indeed.

“At the age of 18, I entered the Beijing Olympics quarterfinal. At 19, I won the Super Series title, and now, in my 20th year, my immediate target is to become World No. 1 and also the world champion,” Saina said.

“I believe staying in the world top 10 is itself a major achievement. And given my confidence and fitness levels at the moment, I feel why should I not dream big?” said the World No. 5 with a broad smile. “Well, winning the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics is a big dream, but that is still a long way to go. Right now, my focus is on my immediate goals,” Saina added.

According to Saina, she really played well and enjoyed the last three years in the big league. “I am more confident — definitely not over-confident — now. Thanks to the emphasis on physical conditioning, I feel that I can now match the best of players from other countries,” she explained.

“Yes, definitely, life has changed a lot for me after the Beijing Olympics. There is a lot more recognition for me now, and naturally, the expectations are also very high,” Saina said. “I have never felt as fresh in my career as I have been feeling of late. Even during the World Championship in Hyderabad, I had just recovered from a bout of chicken pox, and then I had a viral fever too. But touchwood, I have never felt so fit before, honestly.”

For me, there is no better joy than seeing my parents (Dr. Harvir Singh and Usha Rani) so happy and proud of my achievements. That is the biggest motivating factor for me when I come back home after hours of training,” Saina said.

Interestingly, Saina has now decided to take along with her either her father or her mother to most of the major events in the circuit. “Let me remind you that quite often most of the Indians lose before the knock-out phase. That leaves me alone with only the coach. So I felt that I needed someone who is close to me emotionally and there is no better choice than my parents. That is the reason why my father accompanied me to the All England recently,” Saina said.

Saina has won so many awards already in her career. What do they mean to her?

“Honestly, when I was chosen for the biggest award of them all, the Padma Shri, it boosted my morale even while making me feel a little older and closer to retirement. They (the awards) do elevate you to a different level,” Saina said.

For someone who adores the tennis great, Roger Federer, for his “remarkable composure in winning the Grand Slam titles”, Saina said she is still mastering the art of staying focussed on the task at hand. “I remember, in the Beijing Olympics I lost my way in the quarterfinals because I was thinking of the semifinals. It happened at the All England Championship too. And the most disappointing fact is that this keeps happening when I am close to winning. This is one thing I am keen to avoid in future,” Saina said.

How is she before a match?

“I pray a lot to keep myself in the game and steer clear of the distractions,” said Saina.

For now, Saina is focussed on four major events — the Uber Cup, the World Championship, India Open (in Chennai) and the Commonwealth Games. Nothing can match the tag of a world champion, and I am desperate to win it,” she said.

The long hours of training Saina puts in day in and day out can be tiring. How does she relax?

“Watching movies. I am a big fan of Shah Rukh Khan. I adore him for the way he keeps so many things in his life so simple. I am desperate to meet him,” she said.



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