As determined as ever

Formidable team... Saina Nehwal with her mentor and coach Pullela Gopi Chand.-G. KRISHNASWAMY

Forced to take a break from training because of chicken pox, Saina Nehwal’s preparation for the World Championships has suffered greatly. However, she doesn’t seem to be unduly worried. “I don’t think this would have any psychological impact on how I would face the challenges in the World event,” she says in a chat with V. V. Subrahmanyam.

A week-long break from training because of chicken pox hardly seems to worry her. “It’s definitely a sad part of my preparations, but then it’s not in my hands. But I don’t think this would have any psychological impact on how I would face the challenges in the World event,” says Saina Nehwal, who is the focus of the entire nation as she spearheads the Indian challenge in the Yonex-Sunrise BWF World Championships in Hyderabad (August 10 to 16).

According to the champion player, her only cause for concern is that she is feeling a bit tired and weak after her illness. Even her mentor and Chief National Coach Pullela Gopi Chand is keeping his fingers crossed, hoping that Saina would attain her peak right in time for the World Championships. “Well, there are no options in such things. You have to face them. Naturally, I would not have liked this break ahead of such a prestigious championship,” he points out.

For Saina, the last few months have been like a dream. Things have been happening so quickly and so well for her. “If someone reminds me about the Indonesian Open victory, it is like being pinched, and then you realise what happened,” she says with all humility. And Saina is fully aware that a lot is expected of her.

It is amazing to see Saina, at 19, shouldering such a huge responsibility. But she is not so naïve as to ignore the other side of sport. “I wish to treat it like any other event. Or else, I will be inviting pressure,” she says with all modesty.

It is not that the champion player is down in spirit. In fact, Saina is clearly trying to play down the expectations on her. “Well, I am not a machine to keep winning every time. No doubt, I have been doing really well and peaking at the right time, but honestly, I don’t want to entertain any predictions on the World Championships. Just let me enjoy even while giving off my best,” is how she reflects on the mega event.

Quite interestingly, Saina already has two pre-quarterfinal appearances in the World Championships and is looking to improve upon that record in front of her home crowd. “I enjoy playing in front of massive crowds. This is what happened in the Indonesian Super Series final. I got used to these things,” she says.

Contrary to what is generally believed, Saina doesn’t think she has an easy draw in the World Championships. For the record, she has a first-round bye and is likely to face the 10th seeded Bulgarian, Petya Nedelcheva, in the third round. If she wins, Saina will take on second-seeded Lin Wang of China in the quarterfinals.

“It is not as easy as people are making it out to be. It is a World Championship and one has to be at his or her best to win. You can’t take anyone for granted, for on a given day you can either win or lose,” explains Saina. What is the big difference that Saina sees in this World Championships? “There is no better feeling than playing at home. Yes, there will be pressure. All I promise my fans is that I will play a good game so that they can enjoy it,” she says.

Is there any area of concern in her game even now? “I don’t think so. I do believe that I am improving with every tournament. I am not trying to be over-confident. I am really playing well of late. Again, it is not just the question of winning alone. You have to remember that sometimes you play really well and still end up losing. So, what I should be aiming for is to reduce the number of unforced errors. You just cannot afford to give even the slightest chance to your opponent to get on top. Even one or two points at a crucial stage can change the result of the match,” says Saina.

The World No. 5 doesn’t believe in video analysis of any player. “I get drowsy when I watch these videos. I don’t believe in them at all. I have my own notes which I jot down when I am on the circuit. I normally take a look at them before my matches. And I bank more on my coach for those invaluable assessments of my opponent’s strengths and weaknesses during a match,” says Saina.

“What matters is how well you play on a given day and not how much you prepare for a match. Sometimes, the whole preparation can go awry if we stick to a game-plan.

“For me, the feel of playing is important. For once you are happy with that and find the rhythm, everything will fall in place,” she says.

Any targets like attaining the World No. 1 ranking?

“Certainly not. I am not thinking too far beyond the World Championships. I am happy to be World No. 5 right now. I am not overtly bothered about these rankings,” Saina says.

According to the champion player, the Arjuna Award should only enhance her responsibility as a sportsperson. Saina says that she is grateful to the Badminton Association of India and the Union Sports Ministry for bestowing that honour on her.