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As soon as an Unstoppable Power, Damage-hit Saina Nehwal Now Stands at Crossroads

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Saina Nehwal burst upon the unsuspecting badminton world and into the consciousness of the Indian sports activities fan like a bolt of lightning in Might 2006 when as a treasured teenager of 16 years, she hammered her approach into the 4 star Philippines open and snatched the title from the jaws of few extremely ranked gamers, together with the then world no.2 Xu Huaiwen. At the moment the Hisar-Haryana born Saina was ranked 86th within the BWF world rankings.

From that sensational win Nehwal by no means regarded again. Certainly the upsurge within the recognition of the game in years 2006 to about 2018 was primarily because of her. She made a novel and extremely worthwhile pairing with coach Pullela Gopichand, they usually went on a successful spree by no means seen earlier than, not solely in India but additionally remainder of the world.

Afterall, India by no means had an instance or a legacy to comply with in singles gamers of the distaff facet.

In males singles now we have had sensible people on and off, self-produced and self-coached with nobody guiding them. Nandu Natekar, Dinesh Khanna, Prakash Padukone, late Syed Modi, Gopichand, all prime ten ranked shuttlers of their occasions. Padukone after all was ranked number one in his time. In girls singles the closest participant who got here to be revered overseas was Aparna Popat – the 9 occasions nationwide champion, who received Commonwealth silver and bronze medals and rose as much as world rank 14.

Nehwal nevertheless by no means adopted historical past and performed at will, not intimated by the popularity of any participant throughout the online.

I bear in mind Gopichand telling me as soon as once I was engaged on his biography, “I don’t know what she is product of, however she is simply not bothered about names and reputations of anybody. She Simply desires to win that’s all.” Himself a really laborious working participant throughout his profession, he was delighted to see the identical qualities within the teenager who merely needed to bulldoze previous each opponent.

Malvika Bansod put up a strong present to beat Saina Nehwal. (BAI Picture)

Nehwal was an actual hustler on courtroom, the quintessential road fighter sort, who simply didn’t need the shuttle to fall into her courtroom, come hell or excessive water. Not a lot grace in her sport or actions, like former shuttling queen Ami Ghia, or the calm poise of Aparna Popat. Nonetheless, Nehwal simply got here at you throwing every thing she had, bludgeoning you into submission, with assault and tempo. This was akin to the model of former nationwide document holder Madhumita Bisht. This lethal duo of Gopichand and Nehwal went on to win 24 titles on the BWF stage.

A bronze at 2012 London Video games, a silver and bronze in world championship, two bronze medals in Uber cup, three gold and one silver and a bronze medal in Commonwealth video games, two bronze medals at Asian video games, three bronze at Asian championship, gold and bronze at world junior championships: these are 17 medals on the highest stage of world badminton that she received, aside from the 24 BWF circuit titles she received in a glittering profession.

In 2008, Nehwal received the Chinese language Taipei open at age 18, defeating the then reigning world champion Zhu lin. By June 2010 she was ranked world quantity 3 and climbed to 2nd spot by July 2010. In 2014 she received the China open a by April 2015 Nehwal was on the prime of the summit.

An elated nation bestowed on her the Arjuna Award, Khel Ratna, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan in fast succession. A shuttler, who remained in prime ten rank for nearly 11 years, turned advertisers delight as she was roped in for 17 well-paying endorsements, had two books written about her exploits, and had a biopic made on her life. She was possibly, additionally the richest badminton participant in historical past when she was at her peak. A improbable life any which approach you look.

A philanthropist of kinds, Nehwal’s is 18th on checklist of most charitable athletes on the planet. She would have received extra titles and medals however accidents hampered her progress. She missed the 2014 CWG video games because of foot damage. She missed a lot of the 2020 and 2021 season both to cancellation of tournaments because of Covid or as a result of she was injured. Her greatest drawback has been Planter Fasciitis, a medical drawback that impacts the legs, particularly the heels of the foot. She is now 31; clearly she will’t play like a youngster. The wear and tear and tear was sure to occur, to take a toll on her physique.

She went for Uber cup and different tournaments in Europe final 12 months and needed to concede matches because of groin and foot accidents. She couldn’t play the tournaments in Asia additionally when the worldwide badminton caravan moved there for six occasions together with the world championship. Phrase has it that she is solely not pondering of retiring any time quickly, and like her idol Roger Federer she desires to play until the 2024 Paris video games. That may be a good two years away.

“Age is only a quantity. Saina is aware of the best way to win. It’s how she feels that issues. She has had a most extraordinary profession. She has been a prime ten participant for nearly 11 years. Very very constant. An amazing champion. She is aware of her physique, the way it behaves, when to coach when to relaxation. If she desires to play in Paris, then we should always welcome her resolution. Her health is her drawback and he or she is aware of the best way to stay match and proceed taking part in tournaments,” says former nine-time nationwide champion Popat.

Popat feels one of many nice high quality that Nehwal has is her means to study quick. She adapts very quick to the altering rhythm of the match: learns from her errors and doesn’t repeat them. “I performed her within the finals of the 2006 nationwide championship and defeated her to win my 9 title. Similar 12 months she received the Philippines open and by no means regarded again. She was not a pure internet participant however inside couple of years she was among the finest internet participant on the planet. In conclusion, I’ll say that relating to her future let her resolve. Saina will make the right resolution.”

Nonetheless, it’s apparent that this nice champion is at a crossroad. Final two years have been a nightmare. Beset with accidents and the BWF schedule repeatedly hit by Covid she had not been in a position to play as she likes. She has been dropping in first or second rounds which by no means occurred earlier than. Until 2018 she had been in a position to defeat likes of PV Sindhu. Within the Commonwealth video games and Indian Nationwide championships, Nehwal had defeated Sindhu.

And the nightmare continued for her in 2022 additionally. Within the first spherical on the India open in Delhi she managed a 22-20 first sport win over barely identified opponent Tereza Svabikova (retired harm within the second sport).

However then got here a shocker when the as soon as mighty Nehwal, misplaced tamely to Malvika Bansod 17-21, 9-21 within the second spherical. Bansod is a younger and upcoming Indian participant. What’s one to make of this scoreline? The place does she go from right here?

Nehwal clearly has to introspect to see the place she is heading.

Clearly her physique just isn’t responding to instructions the mind is giving. One can struggle something however not the ravages of father time. She was an actual ziddi participant, ready to chase the hen to hell and again. However right now the physique, which used to maneuver so effortlessly, gliding across the courtroom as if on ball bearings, is gradual and sluggish. Her followers, together with this author, want to see her at her finest all the time, the frown in her face as she contemplates what the opponent will do subsequent, her badminton pc working time beyond regulation, as slowly, however certainly her vicelike grip on the proceedings introduced within the outcomes she needed.

Effectively it’s her resolution what she desires to do relating to her profession. However a real legend is one who retires on the proper time so that folks ask, why you retired, fairly than asking you when will you retire?

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