‘The best chance for me to win a medal'

RAJEEV BHATT

“For any player winning three titles ahead of the Olympics is a huge morale booster,” says Saina Nehwal in a chat with V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Saina Nehwal is back after a fabulous run that saw her win back-to-back titles — the Thailand Open and the Indonesian Open — and re-assert the fact that she continues to be India's best medal hope in badminton at the London Olympics (July 27-August 12). With these wins, the world No. 5 has shown that she is determined to improve upon her performance at the previous Olympics in Beijing where she reached the quarterfinals.

“Well, at 18, I was a little too young for the biggest sporting event. But now, after four years and having won quite a few Super Series titles, I am aware of the huge expectations on me,” says Saina.

The 22-year-old champion, who has been consistently breaching the so-called ‘Chinese Wall' in badminton, downplays her twin triumphs though. Saina believes that Olympics is a totally different proposition.

“I still remember how I was overawed when I played in my maiden Olympics in Beijing. Obviously, I am more experienced and more mature to handle things differently now,” she says.

Saina says that her preparations for the London Games under India's Chief National Coach Pullela Gopi Chand are in full swing. A special diet programme, monitored by Gopi Chand, has helped Saina shed five kilos in the last couple of weeks.

“The focus is on many areas in the run-up to the Olympics. It would be naive to think that I am fully prepared for any event. There are bound to be minor adjustments that I have to make even when I am winning,” says Saina, who won the Indonesian Open for the third time in four years.

“The level of intensity in preparations for the Games in the next few weeks is bound to go up. Every effort will be made to see that whatever is being planned is in place in London,” she says.

“Yes, I do have a feeling that this is the best chance for me to win an Olympic medal. Especially after the way I played in the Indonesian Open, not conceding too many easy points in crunch time,” Saina says.

“What pleased me most is the manner in which I fought back from difficult positions in big matches. And also the level of fitness I managed throughout the Asian circuit. This should make a huge difference in my pursuit of an Olympic medal this time.

“I can definitely say I was never this fit and positive in my approach before.

“It doesn't mean that I am complacent or overconfident. But yes, the confidence is back after a disappointing last year. For any player winning three titles ahead of the Olympics is a huge morale booster,” Saina explains.

It is said that Saina is one of the most studied players in the circuit now. So, does it mean that she has to keep changing her tactics?

“Not necessarily. I repeat, what I have to do is to cut down on the negatives. Once you do this, half the battle is won. I am more mature and capable of changing the pace of the game, forcing opponents to earn points,” Saina says.

Talking of her victories, the star player says that she is not trying to bask in the glory of the Thailand Open and the Indonesian Open triumphs. “They are history now. The focus shifts to London as I don't play any more events before the Olympics. I am aware of the fact that it would be a completely different game out there. More than the quality of the opponents, the whole ambience in the arena at the Olympics makes the competition so different and difficult too,” Saina says.

“You have to make the necessary adjustments against a particular opponent on a given day if your game-plan doesn't work. So, success depends upon how quickly you adapt to the given conditions.

“It all depends on how well you play on a given day. The fact that I have beaten some of the big Chinese players consistently in the recent past is a huge plus for me. I think I am capable of putting up a special performance. But again, I do need little bit of luck too. Hope, Lady Luck smiles on me this time as I chase my ultimate dream,” Saina says.