By Sanjana Sanghi:
Saina Nehwal has ascended the badminton world ranking list and become the first Indian woman to attain the No.1 spot. The official rankings will be out next week, however, the 25-year-old Indian champion is definitely going to secure the spot because she defeated Spain’s Carolina Marin in the India Open Super Series semifinal held at Sirifort, New Delhi. Saina, the London Olympic bronze-medalist has several firsts to her credit, along with several international titles. She was the first Indian woman to be a junior world champion, the first Indian woman to grab a Super Series title, and now the first Indian woman to reach the finals of the All England Championship that was held in Manchester.
In the second semifinal, her win against Yui Hashimoto from Japan, whom Saina had lost to in 2013, crystallized her position further and landed her straight into the finals. The badminton world rankings take into account a player’s ten-best performances over a period of 52 weeks. Before this tournament, Nehwal was world No.2 (with 74,381 points), lagging behind Li Xuerui from China. The climb for Nehwal was made easier as Xuerui suffered a setback due to injuries.
Prakash Padukone achieved the world No.1 ranking 35 years ago, becoming the first Indian man to do so, and Saina has become the first Indian woman to have this glorious achievement to her credit. She had lengthy conversations with him about his journey and achieving the No.1 position, and tried to pick up as much as possible. Previously, Saina had been plagued by poor results, owing to several defeats in matches against top players. During this phase, she made a crucial decision by changing her training methodology. The Hyderabad-based player, who has been groomed by the All England Champion, Pullela Gopichand since the age of 14, is now at the Padukone Academy under the guidance of Vimal Kumar, former national champion. This change has clearly reaped benefits, as she beat 3 of the best Chinese players and bagged the China Open Super Series title. Consequently, she beat the current world No.3 Wang Shixian at the World Super Series Final.
Amidst a host of other achievements, Saina in 2010, was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the country’s highest sporting honour.
Saina through her undying passion and whole-hearted dedication to the game has shown that she is a sheer sporting genius. Saina feels that it has been tough for her to be in the top five for the last seven years. She hopes to maintain it for some more time as it feels good. At the same time she has to work hard everyday, train everyday. She thinks that it is tiring, but she wants to be the best.
Ironically, Sirifort, where Saina created history, is one of her most disliked locations. She finds the courts “draughty” as the shuttle drifts and does not go where the player wants it to. Apart from the Commonwealth title in 2010, Nehwal has never got past the quarterfinals in any of the four previous editions of the home Super Series held here.
Modesty is the key for any champion, and Saina exemplifies this fact to the core. “I want to be the best, it’s not about the ranking, it’s about being consistent.” However in my opinion, sustaining the top position will become even harder after Li Xuerui recuperates from her injury, as she will come back as a strong contender for the No. 1 rank.
However, this achievement is a new milestone in the Indian sporting history, one that deserves utmost appreciation and has filled each Indian’s heart with pride. It has also served as a consolation for the many disappointed Indian hearts owing to India’s loss against Australia in the Cricket World Cup semifinal.