Saina Nehwal is the fi rst Indian shuttler to win an Olympics medal, the World Junior Badminton Championship and a Super Series tournament
Known as the ‘Cinderella’ of Indian badminton, Saina Nehwal is not just the first Indian to win a medal in Badminton at the Olympics but also the first to win the World Junior Badminton Championship and a Super Series tournament by clinching the Indonesia Open in 2009. She attained her career’s best rank of second in 2010 as per the ranking released by the Badminton World Federation. Having played around 280 singles matches, Saina has won more than 200. Her success can heavily be attributed to the rigorous training sessions she has had. In her early years, she was coached by Dronacharya Award winner, S.M. Arif. At present, however, her training sessions are being handled by Atik Jauhari, the former All England champion from Indonesia, while Pullela Gopichand is her mentor.
Earlier this year in January, Saina defeated the World Championship bronze medallist P.V. Sandhu, to win the Woman’s singles of India Open Grand Prix Gold Tournament. In 2012, she was seen successfully defending her Swiss Open title by defeating Wang Shixian of China, world number two, a day before she turned 22 years old. Soon after this, she defeated Ratchanok Inthanon of Thailand and lifted the Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold Title. She is sponsored by the Mittal Champions Trust, a foundation that the Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal started to support promising young Indian players. In order to achieve all this, Saina had to endure heavy grilling sessions. She hits the gym at 4.30 pm every day. This includes four days of weight training and two days of running on the treadmill for about 70 minutes. Sunday is the only exception.
Saina counts turning non-vegetarian as the biggest compromise she has to make for her career. “That’s one sacrifice I had to make. I watched the Chinese and was convinced that if I have to beat them, I should turn nonvegetarian. They eat all kinds of food and I believe that’s the reason why they are strong. Players need strength and the only way to get it is through eating meat. I eat a lot of chicken and I believe it has helped me to gain strength,” says Saina.
In Gopi’s opinion, her success comes from her discipline. Saina follows the same schedule for six days in a week. The alarm goes off at 6.00 am. After having a glass of milk, she goes back to sleep again, only this time it’s the ‘yoga nidra’ (yogic sleep). “Personally, I think this is the most fruitful session of the day. I think a lot during this stage. This session helps me to come out with a better plan for the day ahead. It also helps me to improve my concentration levels,” says Saina.