Just for Women
Home      |      Editor’s Note      |      Events      |      Careers      |      About Us      |      Contact Us      |      Sign In with Jfw      |      Gallery
Spotlight > Saina Nehwal
Back to previous page
Focus. That is the word which comes to mind each time Saina Nehwal talks about her game, her years of dedication to badminton or her victories and losses. In the spirit of a true champion, she is totally focused on her game. Like the legendary Arjun who could only see the eye of the fish before he shot the arrow, Saina’s only target at every tournament is victory. Though there are losses too, she doesn’t let them affect her adversely. With her eyes now set on an Olympic gold, her focus is on improving her game to create history for India. In a candid conversation with Minnal Khona, the young champion speaks about her game, her love for winning and her goals.

The reigning world number two badminton champion, Saina Nehwal is all of 20. But she wears her success with ease and grace. No pretensions at being a prima donna or flaunting a ‘look at me, I am great’ attitude. She is unaffected, focused on her game and though her career has taken off to glorious heights, her feet remain firmly planted on the ground.

Saina Nehwal has created history, like no other. She has left an indelible impression on the minds of Indians all over and has revived the game of Badminton. A youth icon, there is much to learn from the young Saina, especially her attention to the game. For now, there is no one in her league and she still has a long way to go before she can call it a day.

“I would be up at 4.30 AM every morning to go for badminton practice.”

When I was 9, I came to Hyderabad from Hisar (Haryana), as my dad got promoted. My parents used to play badminton for the state of Haryana. I had played in Haryana too so I enrolled for a summer camp in Hyderabad which was held by the Late. Sh. P.S. Nani Prasad and Sh.Govardan Reddy. After the camp, I got selected to play with the regulars under Md. S. M Aarif and that meant daily practice. My school Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan was 25 km away from L B Stadium at Rajendranagar where we lived. My mother would wake me at 4. 30 in the morning, and my dad would take me to the stadium where I would train till 8.30. I was always late for school and after school finished at 3.30 PM, I would go back to train in the evening. As a result, I’d be asleep by 9.30. This routine continued for 11 years.

“I had to drop out of college to focus on my game.”

Though I would miss out on school a lot, luckily I was good with my studies. So, I could study during the fortnight before the exams and do well. Later, in 2000, we shifted to Mehdipatnam and my house was close to the stadium so I could come home, rest and then go to school. But I did take permission to miss the last 2 classes in school every day so I could go for my practice. That year, in 2005, I may have attended school for a total of 15 days only. But I was allowed to give the board exams ( CBSE ) and I got 67%. Then, I joined St Anne’s college and at my first Grand Prix Gold which was held in Philippines, I beat the world no 3. I decided to drop out of the 12th standard as I had to prepare for the Olympic Games. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do both – play and study. I think it was a good decision because I was free to focus on my game completely. After that, I was totally into the game and playing tournaments.

“Beating Aparna and meeting Gopi sir changed my life.”

I was already playing tournaments in the under-19 category at the national and international level by 2005. In that year, I beat Aparna Popat at the Asian Satellite Games in Delhi. She was world no. 27 then and that match changed my life. I became more confident and believed that I could go on to win bigger tournaments. After that, I met Gopi sir (Pullela Gopichand) and he changed my game completely. I was world rank no. 186 when he took me under his wing. He trained me so well that my ranking improved and I was ranked 28 as my game improved considerably. In the year 2009, I played my first major Indonesian Open and I won. It was a super series tournament and I beat Wang Lin who was ranked higher than me. It was one of the best and happiest moments of my life. The super series is equivalent to the grand slam in tennis.

“Last year has been my best ever.”

The tournaments keep coming and all I focus on is improving my game and learning from my mistakes. The year 2010 has been my best ever year. I won three titles and 2 super series last year. I won at the Singapore Open and the Indonesian Open. The hat trick improved my ranking as I was at number 3 and then later was at no 2. In December, I won the Hong Kong Super series.

But for me, winning gold at CWG Delhi was important as I was happy to play in front of the home crowd. Though I was under a lot of pressure as expectations were very high, there were important people (the Prime minister, the speaker Meira Kumar and Rahul Gandhi) watching my game, I had to win. My mother and sister were in the crowd too, watching me, so it was a great high for me when I won.

“Winning gold at the Olympics is my ultimate goal.”

It makes me very proud to play for India and represent the country at international tournaments. At the Beijing Olympics, I was very disappointed that I didn’t go beyond the quarter finals, but I am working at improving my game so I can do well in the next Olympics. My ultimate goal is winning an Olympic gold in Badminton. I hope I am able to do that at the London Olympics 2012. My current ranking is number 3 again and I hope to get to number 1 soon.

“I learn from every game I play.”

I am totally focused on the game but more than the game, I love winning. It is the thought of winning that drives me to do better every time. Of course, there are losses and there have been times when I have cried after losing a game, especially if it is because of some mistake I made. But I have learnt to never take my opponent for granted and not to dwell on the loss. I always make it a point to think positive and believe that I will win. That is what keeps me going. But I do know that playing a tough match is very exhilarating and after some time, even the body likes the exercise and the effort.

My worst memory is of the Olympics where I was 11-3 in the quarter final in the final set, and suddenly, I don’t know what happened and I lost the game. That taught me never to take an opponent lightly and it gave me the josh to work harder. I feel bad and sometimes I cry a lot when I lose a match which I could have won, but I tell myself that it is not the end of the world and I will win some and lose some matches. I don’t focus on the loss and I don’t compare myself to the other players. I only focus on improving my game. There are times when I do get tensed and the pressure gets to me but on court, I play with focus. I don’t let the pressure get the better of me as the game is too quick and one can’t be thinking of other things while playing. At that time, my only thoughts are on where is my opponent going to hit next, and I have to focus on anticipating her next move. I don’t think negative at all. I go there thinking I have to win, and before a match, I sit quietly for 5 minutes, say a prayer and go on to the court.

“My parents and I have made a lot of sacrifices.”

My dad and mom have given up a lot to ensure that I have a smooth time with my practice. Besides dropping me and picking me up from the stadium early in the morning and late in the evening, my dad also borrowed money from friends and withdrew his Provident Fund savings so that I could train and have all the world class equipment. My mother was always there to encourage, if I slacked off. On my part, I have had to sacrifice the life of a normal youngster. I do wish occasionally, that I had the time to just hang out with friends, bunk classes in college and go shopping or watch movies. But then, my love for the game takes over and I push all these thoughts aside. I don’t let them get to me too much; I focus on what I have to do next. I never played with dolls but I love them and I may get to play with them in the next life.

“My injury keeps me awake at night.”

I don’t get depressed usually, but at times, when an injury prevents me from playing, I get depressed. This time, I was playing a match in December at Hong Kong, and somewhere on the court, I slipped a bit and felt a jerk on my ankle. Since then, it has been giving me trouble and is very painful. I am undergoing physiotherapy with my trainer Kiran Sir, but it is taking time to heal. I worry about the injury and it keeps me awake at night as I fear that it may affect my game in the long term. It has also made me very irritable and I snap at my mum and dad if something I want done is not taken care of. Otherwise, I am very easygoing and it takes a lot for me to lose my temper.

“I love ice creams and alu parathas.”

On Sunday, which is the only day I don’t go for practice, I go out to the malls. I love shopping and I love watching movies especially Shah Rukh Khan’s films. My routine on the other days is pretty fixed unless I am travelling or something. I go to the Gopi Chand Academy which is 5 minutes away from my house here in Gachibowli, I play for 4-5 hours and return by noon. Then, I have lunch and rest till 3 pm or so. After that, I am out again, playing till 7:30 and once I return, I have dinner and sleep. I have to be careful about my diet as I gain weight easily, so I eat the usual ghar ka khana – dal, chawal, veggies, roti and chicken. Once in two weeks, I indulge and eat something I really like – alu paratha, for instance. I also indulge when I win – ice cream, sweets, alu parathas – they are all my favourites. I get upset if people criticize me unfairly, especially if someone makes a remark that I have put on weight. I can tell when I have. I don’t need someone else telling me that I have gained a few pounds.

“I don’t have any friends.”

I am aware of the fact that because I am so passionate about my game I don’t have any friends. It is difficult for me to maintain friendships. I meet people my age, get friendly, then I am off to a tournament, and don’t keep in touch. People don’t understand my schedules and they get tired of being the ones to keep in touch. I don’t blame them because I often forget the names of people I meet, and I don’t keep in touch because of my game and hectic schedules. As a result, I don’t have any friends. My only friends are my parents and I talk to them about everything.Sure, I have had crushes or there have been guys I have liked, just like it happens with girls of my age, but I simply don’t have the time for a relationship and it needs time and attention. I don’t have time to be lonely, but I understand that if I want to be a champion, these are the sacrifices I will have to make.

“My sister is elder but I dominate over her.”

By nature, I am usually very quiet, but I love going out to the malls when my sister Chandranshu comes over. She is married and lives elsewhere. When she comes, we go to coffee shops and indulge in the usual girl talk. We do fight a lot too and at home, I jump on her when we are fighting. We hit each other; pull each other’s hair and stuff. Though she is elder, I dominate her and if she hits me, my mom will tell her not to do it but if I hit her, she won’t say anything.
I am closer to my mom as I tell her everything that happens. Dad is working so he is busy and if I tell him about some injury of mine or about something that went wrong, he will say, “Kuch nahin hua, you just focus on your game. Bahut kathin hai raah panghat ki.” Mum, on the other hand will do everything to make me feel better, and when I was younger, she would even hit me if I played badly or lost. This, of course, was when I was 9 or 10. Nowadays, I have noticed that kids are lazy and not interested. It is usually the middle class families and not the rich ones who push their children to do better.

“I have learnt a lot just watching Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer play their sport.”

I love to watch Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer when they are playing their matches. Just by observing the way they approach their game, I have learnt a lot about playing and being a winner. I think 30-40% of my approach to the game has to do with watching the way they play. I love watching Federer and Nadal play against each other. I also enjoy watching Taufiq Hidayat, the Indonesian champion play badminton. He is just amazing on court and makes the game look so easy.

“I was lucky to get financial support from the beginning.”

When I got noticed and started playing at the junior level, I got a lot of support from various organizations. First, Yonex, the makers of racquets and sports gear paid for my kit and the Mittal Champions Trust would fund my travel and stay during tournaments. That made it a lot easier financially for my parents. Then, Bharat Petroleum Corporation decided to support me from the year 2004. I was an employee on their records and I am being paid a salary. I am currently supported by the Deccan Chronicle group and the Olympic Gold Quest which is headed by Viren Rasquinha. With DC, as a brand ambassador, I have to make a few appearances for IPL matches and they support me financially. Other endorsements I have are with Fortune oil and Airtel group.

“I feel proud that I am playing for India.”

I don’t let success go to my head because I am basically grounded and down to earth. I come from a middle class family and the media too has been good to me. If someone is rude to me, I don’t talk to that person. I know that sometimes, other players say mean things because they may be jealous. I don’t react to any of that and focus on my work and my game. I believe I have a lot more to achieve and several more tournaments to win.

Since I am from Haryana, I would love to be associated with any kind of activity that would help promote sports in that state. The CM has been very encouraging and I am happy to see many girls from that state now playing different sports at the national level. If I could do something that would encourage more of them, I would do it for sure. I am highly thankful to the Govt. of India for giving me encouragement in the form of awards likes Arjuna Award 2009, Padma Shri 2010 and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratan Award 2010.These awards give encouragement and stamina to do even better for my country.

I love doing what I am doing for India and it is a big high when people in their 60s come and tell me that they are proud of me and give me so much respect. It is a great high, to play for my country on an international platform, and win.

Rapid Fire
1. Birthday – 17th March
2. Most Adorable Man – Dad
3. Biggest fear – Losing
4. Idiosyncrasy no one knows of – I get tense over small things very fast
5. Favourite food – Alu paratha and paneer butter masala
6. Romantic dream destination – Singapore
7. Most memorable Dinner – The dinner I had with my mom, sister and niece and my physiotherapist after I won the gold at CWG
8. Must have in my bag – My phone
9. Must haves in my handbag- Mobile, house keys, wallet and chocolates, of course!

Style File

1. Favourite label – None. I wear whatever suits
2. Favourite Photographer – Arvind Chenji
3. Favourite Outfit – Jeans and a t-shirt is what I wear most often but I love wearing saris
4. First car – Honda City, it was a gift but I like the Audi
5. Music I love – Hindi film music
6. Fetish for – Gadgets
7. Colours I love – Black and white
8. Person I am closest to – My mom
9. Saina in a word – Champion

Go to Top
Current Magazine
Current Magazine
Share your cherished memories, inspiring experiences, short fiction or your favourite recipes with our readers.
Write In