“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves." - Buddha
Saina Nehwal, an Indian treasure who resides in the hearts of every Indian. A 28-year-old girl has been making our nation proud by conquering all the milestones of the badminton world. It seems that breaking records and creating history is a daily routine for this five and a half feet Indian powerhouse.
Although Saina began her badminton career to fulfill her mother's lifelong dream, she never gets content of her accomplishments and persisted to rank as number 1 in the world by the Badminton World Federation. She also became the first and the only Indian woman to achieve this monumental accomplishment. Her cap is decorated with feathers from being the first Indian woman to win a super-series tournament to the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships and then a medal in Badminton at the Olympics.
“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
She is a girl who has dedicated her life to only one thing - Badminton. Unlike any other youngster, she prefers to spend her idle time with her coaches, physiotherapists, and colleagues, who are like family to her now, and Saina considers the Gopichand Badminton Academy as her second home. Pullela Gopichand has put tremendous efforts to train Saina and carved her beautifully as a player.
Saina not only wanted to become the best of her time but also better than anybody ever was, is or could be in future. She loves challenges and explains her life motto very precisely as:
“I love winning more than I love playing badminton. Winning is everything." - Saina Nehwal
Early Days of Saina’s Journey
Saina was born to a sports background family on March 17, 1990, in Hisar District, Haryana. Both her parents were renowned athletes in Haryana, and this provided a very favorable platform to start her career. Her mother, Usha Rani Nehwal was a state level badminton player of her younger days, but situations didn't allow her to reach the national levels. This caused a permanent emptiness in her heart and unfulfilled dream in her eyes. But then a baby girl arrived to fill all the voids as now through her she can imagine herself playing in an Indian Jersey. Saina also had a younger sibling, a sister.
Her father Harvir Singh Nehwal was one of the prominent players in Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University in Hisar. Saina did her schooling from the Campus Schoool, located inside the premises of her father's workplace. Since childhood, badminton was a major center of attraction for her, and then the family background gave all the required moral strength. She opted badminton as an extracurricular activity, and Nani Prasad became her first coach. Her parents, being hopeful, took a giant leap of faith by investing all the provident fund for their daughter's training.
“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.” - Leonardo da Vinci
Saina spent only a brief period of her childhood in Haryana as her parents realized that the place does not have much to offer to their daughter's crusade. The Nehwal's packed their bags and relocated to Hyderabad for the betterment of their children's future. By then Saina's younger sibling was born, a baby girl and the Nehwal's were sure that their daughters would make them proud.
Saina joined the local high school named St. Anne’s College Mehdipatnam, Hyderabad to complete her formal studies. But her prime focus was badminton so without any further ado she joined the badminton academy and started working towards her lifelong dream. Seeing her marvelous playstyle the award-winning Badminton coach Mr. S.M. Arif realized that this girl has the potential to be something much more, so he joined Saina's crusade by becoming her coach. Saina and her accomplices began working as a cohesive unit, focused on only one goal.
Patience pays off
She started to develop a skillful playstyle and began winning consecutive district and state-level championships. Through Sania’s persistent efforts, she began to get noticed by several selectors and then came her first chance to play for India at Junior Czech Open Tournament, which took place in the year 2003. It was a moment of pride for the Nehwal's that their daughter is representing India and especially for her mother, to witness the lifelong dream getting accomplished was overwhelming.
Saina knew that this was her moment to make a real impact and well she did. She made the most of this opportunity and came out winning the tournament. Her triumph made the whole badminton fraternity realize that there is a new player who has the potential to dominate. At the young age of 14, she made a mark by getting selected for the Commonwealth Youth Games, 2004 and there also she did not disappoint and won the silver medal. The victory gala continued as Saina became the first and the only player to win the Asian Satellite Badminton tournament twice, once in 2005 and then again in 2006.
“The successful people of this world take life as it comes. They just go out and deal with the world as it is.” - Ben Stein
By the age of 18, Saina became an integral part of the Indian Badminton squad and a teenage sensation throughout India. She grabbed every opportunity that she could and became the first Indian Badminton player to win the Indonesian Open in 2009 which is a BWF Series event. She also won several Under-19 national championships and became a sports icon for India at a very young age of 19.
The Victory Spree
Looking at her perfect track record and accomplishments, the government of India honored her with Arjuna Award in 2009 and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in 2010. She also represented India at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and bagged the gold medal. In 2010 she received an enormous honor by the Government of India - The Padma Shri Award which is the fourth highest civilian honor in India and to add to the amazement Saina was just 20 at that time. It seems impossible to stop Saina as until now she became the best in India and Asia, now the next and ONLY milestone left was to become best in the World.
A couple of years later Saina got a chance to put the biggest jewel in her crown at the London Olympics in 2012. This was the most significant stage in the history of Badminton Championship, and she played marvelously throughout the tournament. There was an upset though when she lost in a straight game (21-13, 21-13) in the semifinals to China's Yihan Wang, who was world number one at that time. Although Saina failed to win Gold but successfully clinched the bronze medal.
“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” - George S. Patton
The London Olympics, in 2012, taught Saina a lesson of life and she was never the same. After a minor setback, she started recollecting herself, and now her only wish was to dethrone the ruling queen and become the world number one. It was just a downhill ride, and soon she progressed to the top 3 in 2015, after winning gold at Indian Open Grand Prix. She won the singles event at the BWF Super Series and conquered her destiny by becoming the number 1 women’s player in the Badminton World Federation rankings. In 2016, she also received the Padma Bhushan Award, the third-highest civilian award in India. Finally, all her hard work paid off.
Today Saina Nehwal is a sports icon all across the globe and her life journey proves that nothing is impossible to achieve in this world, all you got to do is make the hard call at the right time. Saina has dedicated her life to badminton which gave her the throne of the world's number one. There always comes a phase in life which demands persistence and hard work, and as rightly said, there are no shortcuts to success, so it's good to take one step at a time while climbing the mountain rather than falling back. Saina's parents were a constant source of motivation and encouragement that she needed throughout her journey. She believes that there are a lot of "Saina's" in India, and to empower them, she is planning to open a badminton academy in her native state of Haryana.