Go on Saina, bring more laurels

A dark period of self-doubt, pain and anguish has given way to a new dawn for Saina Nehwal. In that bright light, she finds herself as the new world number one in badminton, a sport where no Indian woman had ever made an appearance on the topmost rung. All her life, Saina has been a barrier-breaker and for anyone who has followed her progress, her latest stride comes as no surprise. At every stage of the way, she has fulfilled her promise, with a no-nonsense attitude and a determination that is hard to find in Indian sport.

For a little kid growing up in Hyderabad, Saina hardly had any role model to look up to among Indian women shuttlers. The game had seen a clutch of talented women – the likes of Meena Shah, Ami Ghia and Madhumita Bisht who were a cut above on the national scene but couldn’t make a big impact at the world level. The system placed its own hurdles and more often than not, overcoming those barriers consumed most of the energy. The exploits of men had shown it could be done. On his own, battling the odds, Prakash Padukone went where no Indian man had ever gone before. With a combination of hard work, intelligence and steely will, he floored the best in the business, showing the way forward for generations to come.

Like Prakash, Saina too dared to dream big. She wasn’t satisfied with causing mere ripples in the ocean. She dodged the barbs from the society and brushed aside the cobwebs of negativity. Severely challenging were the questions from the Chinese, who have ruled the sport with an iron fist. Even amidst them, Saina held her own but signs of stagnation evident in her game set her back, triggering a period of uncertainty. It is to her eternal credit that Saina then decided to move out of her comfort zone, leaving the coaching wings of Pullela Gopichand – who had guided her to remarkable successes – to seek a different perspective on her game and a new direction in her career under U Vimal Kumar. The partnership that showed signs of success at the All England championships flowered in New Delhi with Saina’s triumph at the India Open and the top ranking. An Olympic bronze, a Commonwealth Games gold and a handful of Super Series titles are in her bag but the game is far from over for Saina. Already an inspiration to millions, the 25-year-old stands tall in Indian sport as a path-breaker with rare resolve.
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