A chance to soar high again

A chance to soar high again

Having recovered from injuries, Saina Nehwal will be a strong force in Rio

Saina Nehwal was just 18 when she participated in her first-ever Olympics in Beijing in 2008. Even then, the weight of expectations was on her and the Hyderabadi became the first Indian woman to reach the quarterfinals at the Games with an upset win over the then world number five Wang Chen of Hong Kong.

Saina has gone from strength to strength from then on, winning numerous tournaments at the international level, and achieved what she had desired, cherished and worked for with all her heart four years later at the London Games, claiming the bronze medal. Another Olympic Games is round the corner and Saina is busy honing her skills for what is expected to be a challenging task.

"When I started playing, I didn't think I would play even one Olympics. But today I've a medal to show for from the Games. Olympics is something which we can't explain in words. It's not easy to describe how you feel when you get a medal, how you feel when you win those difficult matches. It's like a dream," said Saina.

Having made a strong comeback from what was an injury-ridden start to her 2016 season, Saina seems to have peaked at the right time for the Games. Her run at the Australian Open Super Series, in which she beat the likes of Wang Yihan and Ratchanok Intanon en route to the title, showed what the world number five is capable of when in her prime.

"The win (in Australia) is definitely a big boost. I defeated many top players en route that win. So the next time I play them, there will be an advantage. But it (the Australian Open) was more about how I came back from an injury. It was just about how I win against players who have been troubling me. I wanted to get that confidence and the winning momentum back which I lost in the final of the China Open last November and after that because of the severe injury," she said.

So, does she have an advantage going into the Games?

"I don't think so. If you look at the field, players are consistently performing and coming out with new strokes and techniques all the time. Ratchanok won three Super Series in a row in the beginning of the season, then Wang won the Asian Badminton Championship and Li Xuerui won the German Open. It is difficult at this moment to say it will be easy for me to play well against them again. It will be a new tournament (Olympics)," she stressed, assuring that she would give her best to get the job done in every match she plays in Rio.

From two shuttlers at the Beijing Games to seven set to board the Rio-bound flight, Indian badminton has come a long way in the past years. While the improved infrastructure and training programmes could be credited for this change, Saina believes it's the determination to excel at the highest level that has given this result.

"I think it's the shuttler's determination to do well at the highest level. That's why we have so many participating (in Rio). And, believe me, all of us have the capability to perform well. It's important that we stay focused and believe in ourselves," she added.

From the time when Chinese totally dominated the sport, a situation has come where the world number in the women's segment, Carolina Marin, hails from Spain. And Saina believes that this reflects the development in the sport.

"It's a good change. At the moment, I can't say they (the Chinese) are not beatable, but the other countries are stronger now. Currently badminton is very big in Asia, but we don't have a global presence like in the case of tennis. It's definitely improving. I still feel players from countries like the US and Australia should come forward," she opined.

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