Badminton in India changed forever in August 2012 when Saina Nehwal won an Olympic bronze medal and reached beyond the sporting community into superstardom.
“Saina honestly did something amazing for Indian badminton…I literally had never watched badminton until she started winning. She actually carved out a space for a sport not very popular in India – especially for women – and now it’s so much better.” By September
Like many others I first noticed her at London 2012, however, by that point she was already Commonwealth Champion so she had already achieved significant success. Losing that semi final in the Olympics must have been utterly gut wrenching both for her and the nation watching back home. The bitter disappointment was transformed when she won the bronze and elevated badminton’s popularity to new heights.
On the surface she has quite a ‘classic’ approach to her matches. By that I mean – as in all singles – she likes to move her opponent to the four corners, tries to get them off balance, makes space, then pounces. But that description is too simple and doesn’t take into account her brilliance as a tactician or her psychological power. It’s this mix of skills – all shots form part of her armoury – that make her such a potent player and a fascinating shuttler to watch.
I’ve heard it said that her game relies on retrieving. Clearly, the disadvantage of this style can be that it is reactive. There is either going to be a hint of hesitation or a bit of anticipation. Both of which are weaknesses to be exploited by an opponent. Someone like Tai Tzu Ying – who has spontaneous unpredictable creativity – can really punish this. Against most rivals though it is not a flaw; it showcases her incredible mental strength and strategic dexterity. There is no doubt that she needs to draw rivals into rallies. She has a potent smash – her best shot in my opinion – she has to lure the other player into a weak lift to let her unleash.
She has a genius for defence – always a couple of steps ahead and carefully applying pressure upon her opponent. How must it feel to play against her when nothing you try will break her resistance? This is the remarkable emotional force she has. She will fight until her last breath, she never gives up, she doesn’t recognise when she is beaten. She is the sort of person you want by your side in a war.
“Winning is the only option. I am someone who does not like losing in tournaments.”
2015 was arguably the highlight of her career so far because she achieved World No. 1 status .In the years before that, she triumphed in lots of BWF Superseries events such as the Indonesian Open (2009/2010/2012/2019), Singapore Open (2010), Hong Kong Open (2011) and too many others to list here. But then, just as her Rio Olympics campaign was starting, we all know about that knee injury.
It’s a tribute to her hard work and commitment that she came back to the top of the sport after her operation. Her smash needs to be perfect now because as she follows it in to the net there is the threat that she will be caught out. Her shot selection can be a bit risk averse; her pleasure is clearly in doing whatever it takes to win rather than revelling in pin point accuracy. That attacking clear to a corner is an incredibly useful shot; likewise the cross court net shot to wrong foot her opponent.
I still think there is a lot to come from Saina providing her workload is managed properly. By that I mean that as she gets older it would be ridiculous to play in too many tournaments – badminton is such a physically demanding sport – wear and tear would just be inevitable. But with the right team behind her: coaches, physios, nutritionalists and of course her fans she can still be a beacon for Indian and world badminton.
Saina Nehwal must be the most beloved Indian player. She has been an inspirational game changer in her sport and has touched people far beyond the badminton community. I’ve been inundated with requests to write about her; it’s been hugely enjoyable watching some of her past games and talking to fans about her style. The affection felt for her and the admiration of her is incredible. I’ll give the last word to one of her millions of fans:
“She made an entire nation believe that with hard work and passion Indians can reach the very top in world badminton and consistently win titles. Making a big space for badminton in a cricket mad nation is not easy, now badminton is the second most popular sport in India” Arun – Saina Fan
If you enjoyed this follow the link for more Saina quotes https://womensbadminton.co.uk/saina/
Follow the link below for my article about the other Indian Superstar, P V Sindhu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/03/25/p-v-sindhu-indias-superstar/