Hyderabad Hurricane – Saina Nehwal

No, this is not a spelling mistake. We are not writing about Sania Mirza and her achievements in tennis. In this piece we are writing about the latest sensation on the badminton courts, Saina Nehwal. In 2006, Saina became the first Indian woman to win a badminton tournament with a four-star rating. Ranked 86 in the world, she defeated Julia Xian Pei Wong of Malaysia who was ranked number 4 in the tournament. The event was the Philippines Open. Saina was 16 years old. On the way to the title Saina had beaten world number 4, Xu Huaiwen.

A few months before this title, the 16-year-old had become a full-fledged member of the Indian badminton team participating in the Commonwealth games held in Melbourne, Australia. Saina defeated three world-class players in the tournament!

Early this year Saina became the national badminton champion. She is today the best shuttler (a term used for badminton players) in India. In the last year Saina improved her world ranking tremendously. In April she reached the 21st spot in world rankings and is currently ranked 30. Training her is none other than former All England champion P. Gopichand. She has also been picked up by the sports programme run by steel tycoon L.N. Mittal to give her the facilities she needs to reach the heights of her sports.

In an interview with The Hindu recently, Saina made an important comment. She said, “We get attention only when we win major tournaments, nobody bothers when we reach the quarterfinals or semifinals. I really feel this has to change.” She is right. Just winning titles is not everything. Also, reading about your favourite cricketer’s favourite food does not mean you are a sports lover. To love sportspeople it is important to know about a sport, to love it first.

As far as Saina is concerned badminton runs in her blood. She was born in Haryana in 1990. Her parents Harvir Singh and Usha Rani had both been state badminton champions. It was quite natural for her to hit the shuttle mercilessly from a very young age, though she was not very interested in the game.

Things changed nine years ago when her parents shifted to Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh. Saina was winning tournaments with ease. Her parents suggested that she start playing professionally. Saina was fortunate to be taken under the wing of coach Mohammad Arif who had earlier coached P. Gopichand as well.

Saina has also taken part in training programmes in China and Indonesia. These programmes have helped her to learn how their champions play.
And now? Her dream is to win an Olympic gold. She has to wait for just one more year…