After battling injury for many months, Saina Nehwal has fuelled up the Olympics expectations with the Australian Open win
When legendary American baseball player Babe Ruth said, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up,” he would have never thought that far in the future there would indeed be a person who would personify the statement. Saina Nehwal, all of 26, has already been through the crests and troughs that define a sportsperson’s life. From carrying the overwhelming weight of a nation’s expectations to coming faceto- face with defeat innumerable times en route to successful moments, the shuttler has survived all with élan. This year so far has been the biggest test of her determination.
After becoming the first Indian woman player ever to be ranked world No. 1 last year, the 2012 Olympics bronze-medallist had to survive the agony of nursing herself through an injury for almost six months. Despite having sustained an injury after her runner-upfinish at the World Championship in August, Saina chose to play at the China Super Series Premier. The move aggravated the injury, leading to Achilles tendonitis. She skipped the Hong Kong Open, but participated at the BWF World Super Series Finals in December. She played a couple of matches in the Premier Badminton League, but had to skip the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold, South Asian Games and the Asian Badminton Confederation championships.
“Achilles tendonitis takes a lot of time to heal. I also came very close to having a stress fracture. It was indeed the most difficult injury that I have ever had,” Saina said. Such was the extent of the injury that post China Super Series Premier she was not even able to walk as she could not put weight on her foot. The starting of the year was completely devoted to getting fit. The time after recovery, however, was no less gruelling.
“Recovering from the injury was very hard. I was on court every day but was worried not to put too much pressure on my heel. I wanted to get rid of the injury as early as possible,” Saina told Rail Bandhu of the testing moments. The obvious dip in the world ranking, slipping down to world No. 8, only added to her anxiety. Starting with a quarterfinal loss at All England Open, semifinal exits at Swiss Open, India Open, Malaysia Open and Asia Championships, followed by a quarterfinal defeat at Indonesia Open, it was only at Australian Open in June that Saina could finally taste victory.
“I started this year as world No. 2 and within three months I had come down to No. 8 which was worrying me. Since I was not wining the tournaments, it was pertinent that ranking would go down. But I was very keen to recover the lost ranking,” Saina said, knowing well the fact that en route to recovering the lost ranking she had recovered a lot more. The regained grit to conquer more challenging arenas was just an evident outcome when she jumped two places in the world order.
“Though I was a little afraid of putting any extra load on my foot, I was still making good progress after the injury rehab. I was narrowly losing to some top names. I was eager to get results. My coach (Vimal Kumar) told me that I was just a little shaky and that win would eventually come,” said Saina, happy that the title triumph that had been evading her for so long came near to the Olympics. “It is very satisfying to win a big tournament prior to the Olympics (August 5-21,Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). I will be remembering this win and try to repeat the same at Rio.”
With personal and professional battles won and her confidence restored, the quadrennial event has Saina’s full and undivided attention. “It’s time for the real training for Olympics. I have around six weeks before the Games wherein I do not have any tournaments. So, I will only devote all the time to training. For Olympics, I will be keenly following the nutritionist’s instructions and eat healthy and balanced diet comprising cereal, proteins and carbohydrates,” she said.
Not the one to reveal more than required about her preparation, and rightly so, Saina cautiously added, “Many people write to me every day asking me to come back from Rio with a medal. It is, no doubt, a very prestigious tournament but there can be a lot of difference between expectations and reality. Still, I will do my best to get better results than the previous time.” And if she does it would be much more than a season redeemed.
They rightly say, when something bad happens, you have three choices, you can either let it define you, let it destroy you or you can let it strengthen you. Saina always knew the choice to make. It was never meant to be her ‘Achilles heel’ after all.
text : Garima Verma