‘Winning makes a big difference'

Saina Nehwal gets a warm welcome on her return home. To her right is coach P. Gopi Chand.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

“Ever since my semifinal appearance in the All England Championship this year, my confidence level has been high,” says Saina Nehwal By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Three big titles in the space of three weeks — it is something that even players from China, Indonesia and Malaysia, the superpowers in badminton, can only dream of. First, Saina Nehwal won the Indian Open Grand Prix in Chennai. She followed it up with victories in the Singapore Open and the Indonesian Open. So, it's only understandable that she is in the mood to celebrate her recent run of victories in the international circuit.

The 20-year-old champion shares her experiences with Sportstar.

Question: How do you sum up those successful three weeks on the international circuit?

Answer: It has been a mind-boggling experience. Winning makes so much of a difference. I can tell you, ever since my semifinal appearance in the All England Championship this year, my confidence level has been high. Definitely, I am not complacent. It was important that I combine all my energies and skills towards scoring big wins, and I did that successfully.

What were your expectations before the two Super Series events — the Singapore Open and the Indonesian Open?

Let me tell you, my whole intention was to prepare as well as I could and give off my best. But even in my dreams I never thought I would have such a fantastic run.

If you are asked to give three reasons for your stunning hat-trick of victories, what would they be?

It all started before the ABC Championship in Delhi. Firstly, it was the intensity of my preparations. Gopi Sir (Pullela Gopi Chand) worked on some grey areas, including my fitness, and helped me improve overall. And then, a lot of planning had gone into my pre-tournament preparations with Bhaskar Sir (SAI coach U. Bhaskar Babu) and my team-mates. Essentially, the feeling was that I should not commit any unforced errors. They hammered into me the fact that I am capable of winning big matches and that it is only a question of keeping my cool under pressure.

What is the big difference that you see in yourself now?

It is the confidence combined with the ability to wriggle out of a crisis. I think this is one striking feature (in me). You would have seen that I fought back from the brink in crucial matches, including the semifinals of the Singapore Open against the world champion. Earlier, I tended to lose focus sporadically, but it is not so any more. Probably winning makes a big difference (she smiles). Importantly, the huge mental block of facing the Chinese is not there anymore.

You are also the first Indian woman to be ranked World No. 3...

It's a nice feeling definitely. But though rankings can help you set new goals, they are not the end by any means. There is no point in being the World No. 1 and still not win the World Championship. So, I always believe that these (rankings) are the natural consequences of big wins. So, I am keen to keep winning and not really bother about these rankings.

Will you be under pressure in future given your recent impressive run?

There is no doubt the expectations will be high. But at the same time, once you are World No. 3 you cannot offer any excuses. The onus is on me to be consistent. And I promise that I will not be found wanting in my commitment and dedication.

Two Super Series titles in-a-row — that makes it three overall in your career so far. What next?

I never thought that these things would happen so fast, and so successfully. My focus now shifts to the forthcoming big events, including the World Championship in Paris this August. That is a big stage, and if I can manage a repeat performance, which is not easy anyway, then there is nothing like it.

If you are asked to pick any one special moment from the successful three weeks that you had recently, which one would it be?

It is not easy to name any one event, for each one is special. People might say that the Indonesian Open was far easier than the Singapore Open. But let me remind you, no one plays to gift away a match. And if the big guns from China don't play in any event, it is not my problem. Ultimately, I have to play really well to win a title. Just remember how well the Japanese girl, Sayaka Sato, played in the Indonesian Open final! She really surprised me initially with her improved range of strokes. And don't forget, in the recent past I did record some big wins against the Chinese.

What are your immediate plans?

Well, I will take a break, spend time with my parents who have been such a great source of inspiration for me, and then share my feelings and experiences with all the trainees at the Gopi Chand Academy — they have all been so affectionate and caring towards me. Then after a few days, it is back to business — preparing for the big events like the Worlds, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

What are your next targets? To keep winning big events. Nothing specific.