By Rajarshi Gupta
Saina Nehwal is fast approaching redemption. The quarter-final exit from the Beijing Olympics in 2008 had seemed to haunt her, since she was touted as a genuine medal-contender. The defeat, at a relatively early stage of her career, could have broken a young talent. But not Saina -- that moment of heartbreak only spurred her on to greater things.
Four years later, Saina has a chance to erase the horrors of China. Since her ouster from the quarters in Beijing, the 22-year-old from Hyderabad won four Super Series events and went on to become number two in the world.
As the London Olympics 2012 draw closer, Saina has yet again become the talk of the town. Millions of Indians are rooting for her to bag gold at the Games but the badminton sensation is unruffled. Despite an injury-hit year in 2011, the Hyderabadi is confident of doing well in England.
She accepts there is pressure on her: “There is pressure on every player. As you grow in your specialised field, people begin to aspire more. But I will give my best in the Olympics,” Saina told ESPNSTAR.com in an exclusive chat.
However, it has not been smooth sailing for India’s best badminton player in the lead-up to the Games.
Plagued by injuries in 2011, Saina bounced back to win the Swiss Open GP Gold title and defeated the formidable Xin Wang of China in straight sets at the Sudirman Cup.
At the dawn of 2012, Saina feels good about her training and appears to have put an indifferent 2011 behind her.
“I am training under my coach Pullela Gopichand, the physio, and nutritionist. Everyone knows the type of badminton I play.
“The training has been good, as good as any other player from China or the rest of the world. I am very satisfied with my training,” Saina said.
She might be happy with the training but there are still some hurdles to be crossed before the mega event gets under way. Saina is now in Macau to play the Uber Cup before she travels to London for the All-England Open Championships -- a great place to wind up preparations for the Olympics.
But her focus is unwavering -- all she wants to do now is better her performance at the All-England.
“I played there in August 2011 and reached the quarter-finals. Let us see how I can do this time,” Saina said.
Meanwhile, her mind is not only on bagging an Olympic gold. Like the rest of India, she too is waiting for Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international ton and she backs the Little Master to get there sooner rather than later.
“Sachin is a great player and he knows how to withstand pressure. You know, in cricket, a small error can make the difference. I wish Sachin gets his century as early as possible so he can bring us many more laurels,” Saina said.
She also had a word for the ailing Yuvraj Singh. India’s World Cup hero is being treated for cancer in the United States. Saina sounded concerned about the cricketer’s health.
“It is unfortunate for him. Yuvraj is a great cricketer and it is sad to see him deal with this. Let us pray for a speedy recovery and I’m sure he will come out fit and strong,” Saina said.