Twenty-five year old Saina Nehwal is one of the most iconic athletes in India.Nehwal became the first Indian to reach the top of the Women’s Singles Badminton Rankings in 2015.Prior to that, she became a pioneer for India, flying the national flag high before anyone.She is first and only Indian badminton player to win an Olympic medal, first to win Commonwealth Gold in women’s singles, first to win the World Junior and Commonwealth Youth titles, and was also the first Indian to win the Indian Super series title.
All this in addition to the record 16 international singles titles at the Super Series and Grand Prix Gold level. This resulted in her being called the “darling daughter of India” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Nehwal’s achievements, her focus on winning for India and her simplicity has endeared her to millions of sports fans, not only in India but abroad as well. Nehwal did suffer hiccups along the way, most notably after her birth to Usha Rani and Harvir Singh Nehwal in the state of Haryana when her grandmother refused to see her for a month.Discrimination against a girl child was rife in Haryana. Today, Nehwal is the brand ambassador for the girl child campaign in India.
Badminton was in Nehwal’s genes – her mother was a badminton player as well, representing Haryana.
As there was no coaching facility available for children, her father thought of making Nehwal take up Karate. She loved it and went as far as getting a brown belt before Harvir was transferred to Hyderabad.
By then, Hyderabad had become a hub for badminton following local player Pullella Gopi Chand’s rise that culminated in him winning the national title and then the All England crown in 2001.
“Initially, my parents got me to take up badminton in Hyderabad as we had moved from a Hindi speaking area to a Telugu speaking state. They wanted me to be physically fit but my mother wanted me to become a national champion and win an Olympic medal.“Luck favoured me as I landed up with my coach Arif who groomed me and then I joined Chand’s academy.” Saina said in an interview.
However, financing her badminton activities was a major problem which forced Nehwal’s parents to sacrifice a lot. Her dad didn’t earn much and her sister was studying pharamacy. “Another huge expense was when Nehwal and either me or her mother travelled outside Hyderabad for matches. Each trip would cost up to INR 20,000 ($360)” her father said in an interview.
Problems started easing out as Nehwal started winning national tournaments and sponsors started taking interest.
On the international circuit, she first achieved the number-two ranking in December 2010 but was unable to sustain that.
She attained that ranking once again in July 2013 after beating Chinese Olympic gold medalist and world champion Li Xuerei twice, former All England champion Wang Shi Xian six times, former world champion Wang Yihan twice and former All England Champion from Tine Baun five times.
The year 2015 brought her the ranking she had dreamt of and been working so hard for.
At one stage, Nehwal was the highest paid badminton star in the world in terms of endorsement deals worth more than a million dollars annually, completing the journey from early struggles to global fame.
“I had a problem telling her to stop after a hard day’s work,” recalls her coach Arif. “She always wanted more time on the court. I used to tell her that rest was also important but she wasn’t willing to listen to me.” Nehwal is now working towards winning that Olympic gold that has eluded her.
Her success has taken the sport to great heights in India with thousands following her onto the court, especially young girls.
Now having overcome a minor injury obstacle, Saina is now all cylinder firing to win an ALL ENGLAND title this week . World No.2 is a beacon of hope for the rising Shuttlers in our country .
Now , 25 , She surely has more to offer . We wish Saina the best and hope she continues her run and win our country a deserved Medal at the Rio Olympics.