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Saina Nehwal: Shuttling to Glory

Sherry Roy


Q Is badminton getting the attention it requires?
The media covers anything related to cricket – including covering birthday parties of cricketers. How many other sports are covered that way? I don’t have anything against cricket, but it is just that we have to try extra hard to be noted. You can’t even find the badminton rankings of the last five years, while all the trivia one could imagine about cricket is readily available everywhere. What I am trying to say is that other sports also deserve equal importance. Because badminton is such an intense game where every point is so hard fought for, I need enough rest between tournaments, like say, one week. But even while resting,

Q How long do you see yourself playing?

At least for 10-11 years more. The current World # 2 Zhou Mi from China is over 30 years old now. By that stretch, I have a lot of playing years left, if I am not struck down by injury.
I am conscious that if I don’t keep winning major tournaments regularly, I could get forgotten very easily.
Most women on the international badminton scene should be retiring soon.

Q What do you eat?
The regular stuff that anybody else would eat. Rice, chicken, veg curries… Just that I stay clear of chocolates, ice creams and fried foods. No alu paratha and no paneer either, though I love them very much. I tend to put on weight very fast, like say after the Korean Open, I put on 15 Kgs! But thankfully, once I start training again (eight hours a day, sure!) I lose them as soon. The ice cream melts from my mind when I think of the Olympic medal or even when I look at Gopi sir and how strictly he manages his diet – even now, he doesn’t eat anything oily or sweet.

It was around this time that we incidentally happened to open some juice, and pass it to Saina. “Mango?” she checks, and shakes her head,“I can’t have mango. It’s fattening.” She settles for orange finally. And I am immediately reminded on sucking in my paunch again.

Q These tournaments must be bringing in decent earnings. How do you manage your money? Do you invest?
I don’t invest myself. The government takes care of our requirements. I am sponsored by the Laxmi Mittal Champions Trust; have got a job in Bharat Petroleum; Globosport manages my endorsements; am the brand ambassador for a couple of companies… I should think that am doing well enough thus.


Saina’s father Harvir Singh had been quoted in interviews earlier about the long duration in most prize money reaching her, while expenses, especially the mobile bills while on international roaming were increasing as the media wanted more of her sound bytes. He had to withdraw money from his provident fund at various times to support her training. Saina’s first prize money was Rs. 300,which she won for the state under-10 competition, in 1999.

Q What are plans for the immediate future?

To win every tournament that comes my way, till I finally land for the next Olympics.God has been very kind to me; I’ve won a lot of matches in till now.

Q Who is your inspiration?

Gopi sir (Padma Sri Pullela Gopichand), certainly. He is a legend, winning the All England Open Championship. My parents too – they used have their small badminton wins in Haryana. As a kid, I loved watching them play at the clubs. And yes, Roger Federer! I stay up to watch all his matches. And when Federer cried after losing to Rafel Nadal this time, I couldn’t hold back my tears too. Nadal, I think is like a mental block for him.

Q You cried when Federer faulted. Have you met fans who would cry for you?
I don’t know – I haven’t met many though. My routine is such that I don’t meet many people. Not many come for badminton tournaments anyway. The only significant change I noticed was that more coaches from different camps have started videotaping me more, to study my game. Maybe someone would have felt bad when I lost out in the Olympic quarterfinals – I might never know. With that, we reach the Academy, and out pops this bundle of focused energy, leaving you with a warm feeling. Like somebody who thought aloud with me, “She does not know what an attitude is.”
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