Back to where she belongs

Back to where she belongs

From mulling to quit the game to regaining No 1 spot, Saina's showed she is still the best in business

Back to where she belongs
Since shifting her base to Bengaluru following the 2014 Asian Games, Indian badminton ace Saina Nehwal has grown from strength-to-strength. Having attained the World number one ranking followed by her maiden appearance in the final of the All England Championships and the World Championships, the 25-year-old shuttler has reestablished her credentials as the one to pin hopes on as the nation prepares for the biggest sporting carnival, Olympics.

But the laurels have come at a cost. In an interview with Deccan Herald, the badminton queen, who once contemplated quitting the game, spoke about her journey, the trials and a few tough decisions she had to make to achieve her goal of being the best in the business.

A silver medal performance at the World Championships... How does it feel to be the first-ever Indian woman to do so?

It feels good to be the first Indian to achieve the feat but I believe that an achievement becomes a simple one, once you get it. And that’s exactly what happened with me after I won the silver medal in Jakarta (at the World Championships). However, the target now is to raise the bar and get that elusive gold. I did enjoy the moment though it was a disappointing to lose out in the final. But now that’s in the past. My eyes are set on the gold, the one thing that I want to win in the coming edition of the World Championships. And I believe the only way to achieve that is by working hard and through my training under my coach Vimal (Kumar) sir’s guidance.

How important was it for you to get past the quarterfinal round in Jakarta, given that you were not successful in doing so in your previous attempts?

Sometimes it becomes difficult to cross the set barrier while our colleagues do it easily. I failed several times in the past despite being on top of my game. But, now that mental block is removed, I have breached the barrier. I hope to better my performance in the coming edition.

You had mentioned earlier that you contemplated quitting the game after the World Championships in Copenhagen. Could you tell us, what was the reason behind it and what is that drove you to continue? And how did you manage to get out of that difficult period in your career?

Being on top of my game in Copenhagen, I seemed desperate to win a (World) Championship medal. But unfortunately things didn’t work out well for me. So coming back I approached my then coach Gopi sir (Pullela Gopichand) for help. And he thought that my effort was not enough and that I had to put in more to get the best out of me. But this got me thinking and eventually ended up shifting my base to Bengaluru under Vimal sir. This change showed apparent results and I was once again making the most of my talent and winning Championships and medals for my country. I am thankful that the experiment was successful or else that would have been my end to badminton.

Moving your base from Hyderabad to Bengaluru would have been one of the biggest decisions you took in your career. Could you tell us how difficult was it for you to make your mind up on this decision?

It was very hard, but I had to go through it. My results were disastrous then. I have given my life to the game and when you are displaced and not cared about in a particular environment, it’s always better to move away and look for a place where you can concentrate on your game. That’s the reason why I decided to shift my base to Bengaluru.

Your move from Hyderabad to Bengaluru has worked wonders for you. World number one ranking, your first-ever final appearance at the All-England Championships and the World Championships and so on. Could you tell us how much Vimal Kumar has had an impact on your game, both on and off the court?

It really helped (decision to shift to Bengaluru) and everyone can see that. A lot has changed since then. I have changed as a person. I have achieved the world number one ranking, have won the China and the India Open, reached the finals of All England and World Championships. All these happened only because I moved to Bengaluru. Vimal Sir’s influence has been the biggest change. I really want to thank him for spending so much time with me in the court and making me believe everyday that I am a champion, I can be number one. And even physically I am feeling much better because of the personal attention I get here.

Vimal, in a recent interview, stated that he has concentrated more on making you mentally strong and has tried to imbibe the idea of being a champion, something that has helped in you in getting over your losses quickly and hitting the court almost the very next day. Could you throw more light on this?

Yes, that’s something he has brought into my game. He believes that metal confidence should be the cornerstone of ones endeavor. The stronger you are mentally it’s easier to achieve a goal. Vimal sir has played a pivotal role in this direction.

The Chinese shuttlers, once were considered to be the best in the business. Do you see that wave changing with the likes of you, Carolina Marin, Ratchanok Intanon and PV Sindhu getting the better of Chinese players often?

Yes I do. And undoubtedly it’s the result of the hard work we put in and the training facilities that we receive now. Earlier, we were not equipped with the best of training facilities and so performance used to take a hit. But now, things have changed and the barrier is broken and the performance is there for you to see.

The Rio Olympics less than a year away, where do you see yourself in your quest for the first-ever gold medal in badminton? And how will you be planning your season ahead?

Right now, I think it’s too early to think about the Olympics as I have a number of tournaments before Rio 2016. For me, every tournament this season — before the Olympics — is like a World Championship. I have to be consistent and be on top of my game, that’s something I am trying to achieve.

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