Saina Nehwal continues to inspire despite injury

Saina Nehwal proved that she has the mindset and attitude that makes a champion at the BWF World Championships.

Saina Nehwal waves to the crowd after winning her quarter-final match at the 2017 BWF World Championships Photo credit: Andy Buchanan / AFP

Saina Nehwal rewarded herself with a second medal at the BWF World Championships in Glasgow, adding the bronze to the silver she won in Jakarta two years ago. Though she won the Malaysian Masters in January this year, the bronze in Glasgow will go a long way in motivating the star whose last major medal was bronze at the Asian Championship in Wuhan in April 2016.

Constantly reminded of her first-round exit from the Olympic Games in Rio last year when a knee injury hampered her movement to such an extent that she lost in straight games to Ukrainian Maria Ultina, Saina Nehwal needed a powerful run in a world class tournament to showcase her hunger and skills all over again.

The injury may not have been career-threatening as some believe but was the kind that created clouds of doubt in Saina Nehwal’s mind – at least for a short while. The timely medical intervention and hours spent in the rehab has been of immense help. Saina Nehwal has played 72 games in 29 matches in 11 Super Series or Grand Prix Gold tournaments across the world.

Though coach Vimal Kumar believes she rushed into competition within three months of surgery, it appears to be a thing of the past, buried in the labyrinth of the mind but surfacing only occasionally because of tendonitis. In fact, more than her return from injury, it is the drive with which the 27-year-old competed in Glasgow that is inspirational. She warmed up with a 21-11, 21-12 victory over Sabrina Jaquet (Switzeland) in the second round and was in control during a 21-19, 21-15 win against second-seeded Sung Ji Hyun (South Korea) in the pre-quarterfinals. Saina had to overcome a game challenge by Scotswoman Kirsty Gilmour and secure a 21-19, 18-21, 21-15 verdict in the quarterfinals.

In admitting that she should not have been in Rio, she has shown that she has been reflecting in the events of the past year and drawn a lesson from that. She also knows that the younger players will keep challenging her movement on court, getting her to bend low to retrieve half smashes, drops and dribbles. Her response to that in Glashow has been heart-warming.

It has been a while since such extreme demands were made of her body and mind. Though she played four rounds in the Thailand Open in May and June this year, the quality of competition was not as high. It was not until the final stages of her semifinal loss to seventh-seeded Japanese Nozomi Okuhara that she looked weary on court.

The manner in which she took on players ranked higher than her 12th seeding – in fact, in Saina Nehwal’s own mind, she was unseeded – speaks volumes about her approach. There was no room for the complacent belief that she would have things easy since she had played the final in 2015 or had good records against these players. Each point, each game, each match had to be won.

She had to face the prospect of remaining unsold in the Premier Badminton League auction before Awade Warriors decided to bid for her at her base price of Rs 33 lakh after she was moved to the reserve pool. It did not seem to matter to her that the franchisees were not fawning over her unlike in the earlier edition. She had a mission to accomplish and that went far beyond the league.

There is no doubt that she is a pioneer – her quarterfinal appearance in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing infused interest and belief among countless girls across the country long before she won the bronze in the 2012 Games in London. Even if PV Sindhu appears to have overtaken her on the popularity stakes, Saina Nehwal continues to inspire players with her journey.

your comments