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Saina Nehwal: Shuttling to Glory

Sherry Roy

Saina Nehwal, 2008’s most promising player in the world according to the Badminton World Federation, walked onstage in her ubiquitous track suit, at a function by the Cure Foundation for cancer survivors in Hyderabad. The sun was setting, and Saina had been practicing all day. She had just one request in private before occupying her chair, “If I fall down, please catch me – I’m really exhausted.”


Even then, she had one advice for the crowd comprising mainly of women, “Exercise for at least one hour every day. Many jaws dropped wide and puzzled faces even broke into chuckles, but Saina continued with conviction, “It will keep you fresh through the day and also give you the strength to fight off illnesses.” Later, while driving back with her to the Pullela Gopichand Academy through the evening traffic snarl, I try to hold my breath and tuck my paunch in as the catch-me-or-I’ll-fall-Saina continued to pump energy into her answers, while fighting off questions with a natural ease.

Q You are fighting fit always, never giving up. On court, you excel more with your power game. What is your fitness routine?
I train for eight hours a day, since the past nine years. And no, that is not much – the Chinese train for 14 hours a day – which means that I have a lot of catching up to do. I concentrate more on physical fitness. I do a lot of weights, without it giving me an unfeminine figure. I run a lot – I have to do 12 speed runs, along with a half speed run for a half hour. This is especially because the girls’ game is mostly a lot of running. We sprint, jump and hop for 65 minutes or more. And that, for five days on end. 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. I can’t stay a day without badminton. I can only relax if I’ve trained.

Q You’ve been lucky to have an injury free career.
Thankfully, I haven’t been struck down by injuries yet. From childhood, I have been pretty strong. Maybe that comes from my parents who are pretty strong too – and yes, we are from Haryana (smiles).
Injuries happen when your basics are not good. I have had good coaches since young, and I’ve only gained from it. Plus, Iplay only singles and that helps a lot.

Q How do you prepare mentally?
Yoga really helps. I have an audio routine in my phone which I religiously adhere to twice a day for 45 minute sessions. The best part about it is that I can carry it wherever I need to – my portable yoga guru. Yoga helps me concentrate on individual parts of the body and coax them to function to the best of their ability. Meditation helps to cut down on the many thoughts flashing though your mind and focus on just one thing. This helps me fight for every point and every square inch of court space. Q Some opine you have to improve on your will power.
I have always been mentally strong. The desire to win an Olympic medal drives me. Most people have to strive to get their will power in place – but for me, I have enough of it; what I need to concentrate on is the physical aspect. I need to train harder. But sometimes, I concentrate so much on winning that I cry if I lose.

Q. You made it to the national team when you were 15 years old. What are the tournaments you remember the most?
The quarter-final at the Beijing Olympics remains closest to my heart. To have made it to the last eight in my Games debut, defeating the World # 6 and Asian Games champion Wang Chen should certainly count as something extra special. Also special is getting to the Super Series Masters semi final, which is the sport’s biggest event featuring the season’s top eight players. Now that I’m on for the latter, I have to be fitter than all my competitors to beat them. I don’t lose my matches lopsided. I try my best to make it a 50-50 match every time. My opponents to really have fight to win against me.

 
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