Saina Nehwal hasn’t yet ruled out her chances of qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics and the star Indian shuttler who is nursing a dodgy knee, is still keeping her fingers crossed to participate in next year’s Summer Games.
“Playing is very easy and I can play tomorrow also but agar body nahin to tournament nahin…. I am trying my best to keep myself in the best shape possible,” Saina said on the sidelines of an event of Badminton Pros, where the 2012 London Games bronze medallist was named as a mentor.
Saina, who last featured at the Singapore Open in June this year, explained her inability to go full tilt during training sessions, with her knee constantly being an issue.
“When I train now, the problem is my knee cartilage, and whenever I am pushing really hard, the knee is giving me big trouble, and there is a lot of swelling in the knee. So we are trying our level best to manage the load, and if you want to beat An Seyoung or a Tai Tzu Ying I need to train for 6-7 hours a day, and that is when the results are going to be possible. Otherwise, there is no difference between me and other women players. First, second round ho jata hai (To get through the first and second rounds is possible), but if you really want me to win all the body parts have to be 100 per cent,” she said.
Not retiring yet
Retirements are always difficult, and for a shuttler who still enjoys playing the sport even after being in and out of the court for nearly two decades, the fire of playing the Olympics still burns in the belly.
“I have been playing this sport for 20 years, and I know the knee is going to give the trouble but I want to try my best and if the body says bilkul bhi nahin hoga (it is no longer possible) then probably I will take a call. Currently, I am in a happy space and let me push how much I can and I want to be in the best shape.”
Decline in women’s singles
Saina, who became the first-ever Indian badminton player to clinch an Olympic medal, rued the fact that there is a decline in the performance of women’s singles players from India.
Apart from Saina and P.V. Sindhu, the country hasn’t produced a women’s singles player who has left a mark on the international stage lately.
“It’s been two-three years that someone from girls’ individual has really come up but we have good talent in men’s singles with Lakshya and Priyanshu coming up. Attacking players ki kami hai (There is a shortage of attacking players) as myself and Sindhu are very attacking and we can attack the whole game nonstop but I don’t see that in the girls nowadays that they are aggressive and attacking. They are more rally players, which is good, but the overall game is missing in the ladies section. It will take some time for the girls to come up but the men are growing very strong,” she said.
Saina hails Satwik-Chirag pair
Saina, who trained under chief national coach Pullela Gopi Chand, hailed the growth of Indian badminton, with the men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty leading the way recently winning a historic gold medal in the 2023 Asian Games.
“I feel great that I could start the winning streak among players and they could achieve this, and especially for the girls, it was very tough to even believe the kind of achievements we have today. In boys, we had Prakash sir (Prakash Paduoke) and Gopi sir (Gopi Chand) and they achieved at a very big level. Back then, we never thought that we would play at the international level so in the last 10 years after I won on the big stage there was some advice that was required and the preparation was very important, and the advice was very important from Gopi sir.
“Things have changed, and look at how Satwik-Chirag have been performing. Before the Asian Games gold was just impossible ( first round se aage nahin japa rahe the) but now we have the capability of playing in the semifinals and winning the finals. It’s a huge leap when it comes to Indian badminton, and these guys have done it, and these are champion material.”
Most of the professional badminton academies are based in the south with shuttlers from across India heading particularly to Hyderabad and Bangalore to train and play the sport at the elite level. Saina reckoned that it’s time to de-centralise academies.
“Yes definitely, and it should happen. Actually, it is happening although it will take some time as I want badminton academies all over India in every state so that kids can play. Uttar Pradesh is such a big state, and in fact, so many of my cousins and a lot of children want to come and play. I hope there are a lot more academies in India, we have a lot of coaches, and the opportunities are greater when compared to 10 years ago. Things have become very professional, and the results are coming. I would really want to see kids coming and playing,” the two-time World Championships medallist said.