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Verve People
June 05, 2017

Inspirational Icons: Saina Nehwal

Text by Zaral Shah. Illustrations by Pratap Chalke

“I am the same person on and off the courts. My temperament is very cool”

One of the country’s finest badminton players, she strongly believes that competition drives one to strive harder. And Saina Nehwal has never let her success turn her head. Having recently recovered from an injury, the down-to-earth master shuttler’s aim continues to be achieving excellence and more wins on the court.

What are the unforgettable moments of your career?  
My wins at the international level are the pillars of my badminton career. The 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG) gold medal changed my career. The younger generation made me their idol. The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan further propelled me into the limelight. I earned several endorsements and that made me financially sound.

What has been your most memorable game?
My wins at CWG and the Olympics are memorable. Winning over 20 titles has proved to be a major milestone. I hail from a middle-class family. It was extremely exhilarating when I realised for the first time that major sections of society liked me and I left a mark on the minds of many people.

What’s the most challenging obstacle you’ve faced?
In sports, it’s injuries. As long as you’re in good health, are following a nutritious diet and have trained well there is no obstacle. Finance remains a major hurdle for those who do not hail from well-to-do families. But hard work and only hard work can pull you up from tough situations.

How do you cope with losses on the court?  
“I have learnt a great deal of equanimity over the years. Honestly, no one is happy when you lose a match. When I was younger, I would burst into tears. But, I have become stronger and learnt many lessons. Even if I play badly, I do not lose heart.”

What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve been given and not forgotten?
Arif Sir (Syed Mohammed Arif) always said that I was the best talent that he knew of in the game. He believed that I should remain cool and focused, and that I shouldn’t adopt an arrogant attitude post success.

What do you miss most about a ‘normal’ life?
I am often lonely. It is tough to make time for friends. As players, we do miss them. We don’t realise this when we are playing as we are completely engrossed in the game. It is off the court that we feel alone.

How has being a famous player and living a life in the limelight affected you?
I’m not at all affected by my success. I don’t like the limelight. I want a simple and healthy injury-free Saina who goes about her business of playing. But being famous leaves me little time to do some things that I would want to.

If there is one thing you could do differently in your journey, what would it be?
Nothing. I am very happy with my lifestyle and I would say that I am just a humble badminton player who wants to make India proud.

What do you do in your leisure time?
I watch Hindi movies, spend time with my dog and play virtual tennis….

What kind of person are you on and off the court?
I am the same person on and off the courts. My temperament is very cool. I’m quite domesticated and I tend to be socially reclusive.

What’s the best thing about playing for india?
Everyone dreams to do something for their country. I’m happy that I have made a name for my country in the world of badminton.

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