Saina Nehwal peaking right in time for London Olympics
HYDERABAD: That Saina Nehwal had traits of a champion was discovered when she was just four. She one day greeted her parents, both state-level badminton players, with a severely cut finger. Father Harvir Singh was petrified to see Saina bleeding profusely but mother Usha Rani noticed she was bearing the pain without shedding a tear. Usha, who had failed to make it big in badminton, realized her daughter had qualities of a fighter and could bear hardships - traits required to become a champion. At that moment though, Usha just thanked God for giving her a child who could bear pain.
Six years after that incident, the family moved to Hyderabad from Hisar (Haryana). The city was bustling with badminton activity. And once Pullela Gopichand became the second All England champion from India in 2001, the shuttle sport became a rage with kids. On the advice of coach Nani Prasad - who later died tragically while on duty at the Delhi Commonwealth Games - Saina's parents put her in a badminton summer camp. She impressed the then national coach SM Arif who took her under his tutelage.
Arif retired within a couple of years, but by a quirk of fate, Gopichand, all of 32 then, decided to train shuttlers and was appointed the chief national coach in 2006. Saina started training under Gopi and stunned everyone by winning the Philippines Open Grand Prix Gold in 2006, becoming the first Indian girl to clinch a four-star event.
After a dip in form, Saina struck purple patch again at the Chinese Taipei Grand Prix in 2008 and then became the first Indian to clinch the World Junior Championships.
She created history by reaching the quarterfinals at the Beijing Olympics, again a first for an Indian shuttler.
After her first Super Series win at Indonesia in 2009, Saina went on to win three major titles - India Open Grand Prix Gold, Singapore Super Series and Indonesia Super Series - in three weeks in June 2010. She capped a fine year with the Commonwealth Games gold in singles and the Hong Kong Open Super Series title.
Freak mishaps and a nagging ankle injury slowed her down in 2011, restricting her to just one victory - the Grand Prix at Switzerland. She retained the Swiss title in 2012 but struggled a bit in other tournaments. All that changed in June this year, when she won back-to-back titles, Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold and Indonesia Super Series, to silence her critics and revive her Olympic hopes.
One of the few Indians who never worried about qualifying for Olympics, Saina has been training harder for the Games. She even refused to endorse products of three major companies when all they had asked of her was four hours of her time during the last two months.
Obviously, she has trained her focus only on one thing: to get past the three Chinese shuttlers who are ranked above her.