In a cricket-crazy nation like India, no one wants to know or hear about any other sports and that includes Badminton. You have got to be as good as Saina Nehwal for people to take notice. During the Commonwealth Games 2010 in Delhi and Olympic Games 2012 in London, a large number of Indians watched Saina’s matches live, when she clinched the Gold medal in Delhi and a Bronze at London. Though Saina had already made a name for herself in women’s badminton by then, she became a cynosure of all eyes, as she brought glory to the nation. Saina’s foray in badminton is a tale of a sportsperson, who is truly hard working, and who wouldn’t settle for anything but complete perfection. In India, badminton has rekindled renewed interest because of Saina Nehwal.
When Saina was barely 8-year old, she moved from Hisar in Haryana, to Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. Both her parents were Haryana state badminton champions in their heydays, so it was natural that Saina took to badminton, as she grew up. At a tender age, she trained under Nani Prasad and SM Arif on her father’s request. Saina’s first badminton victory came in 1999 at age 9 in the under-10 tournament in Tirupathi. Then as a 13-year old girl, Saina won Czechoslovakia Junior Open tournament. Since then she has won numerous tournaments in India and abroad. At age 16, she participated in 2006 Commonwealth Games at Melbourne and won the Bronze medal. Her game kept improving over time under the watchful eyes of P. Gopichand and she won Gold medals at the Philippines Open in 2006, Asian Satellite Badminton Tournament 2006, Indian National Badminton Championships 2007, National Games of India 2007, Chinese Taipei Open Grand Prix in 2008, Indian National Badminton Championships in 2008, Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008 and BWF World Junior Championships in 2008.
Saina represented India in the Beijing Olympics 2008 but could only reach the Quarterfinals. By this time she had progressed quite high in world rankings. She trained hard and refined her game remarkably. By tradition, the game of badminton is dominated by Indonesians, Malaysians and the Chinese but Saina was determined to match them in court skills. She was a semifinalist at the BWF Super Series Masters in 2008 but won gold medals in the Indonesia Super Series in 2009 and Indian Open Grand Prix in 2009. In the All England Super Series in 2010, Saina finished as a Semifinalist but secured a bronze in the Badminton Asia Championships in 2010. In 2010 Saina won 5 tournament golds and became one of the top five players in the world. That year, she won gold at India Open Grand Prix, Singapore Open Super Series, Indonesia Open Super Series, Commonwealth Games and Hong Kong Super Series.
Saina began 2011 with the Gold at Swiss Open Grand Prix but she had to remain content with the silver medal at Malaysia Open Grand Prix, Indonesia Open Super Series Premier and BWF Super Series Masters. In 2012 Saina won gold once again in the Swiss Open Grand Prix and consolidated her achievements with two other Gold medals at the Thailand Open Grand Prix and Indonesia Open Super Series Premier.
In October 2012, Saina won the Denmark open in great style by beating Juliane Schenk of Germany in just 35 minutes. It was a sweet revenge since Saina had lost to Schenk in 2011. In the Denmark open of 2013, concluded a few days back, world no. 4 Saina couldn’t repeat her last performance. In a closely-contested quarterfinal game she lost to the Korean smasher Ji Hyun Sung 13-21, 21-18, 21-19.
But Saina is made of steel, though she is only 23. It is to her credit that she has single-handedly converted lot of sports lovers in India to look at badminton in a new light. Her mentor, Gopichand also wants similar revolution and thus far his noble thoughts have achieved a great success. Many badminton players from his academy are making news these days and PV Sindhu is one of them. Then Gopichand is the chief protagonist of the newly created Indian Badminton League, which met with great success in its inaugural year. All this augurs well for the future of badminton in India. Gopichand knows the importance of commercial sponsorship in modern sports. But if one were to look closely, it was Saina Nehwal who started all this. Indian badminton fans may hear more encouraging news in the times to come.