Ace Indian shuttle Saina Nehwal scripted history on June 21 2009, when she became the first Indian to win a Super Series tournament after clinching the Indonesian Open with a stunning victory over higher- ranked Chinese Lin Wang in Jakarta. She is the first Indian woman to reach the singles quarterfinals at the Olympics and the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships. She was ranked number five in the world by Badminton World Federation as on March 31, 2010.
Born in Hisar, Haryana on March 17, 1990, Saina was brought up in the southern city of Hyderabad. Her foray into the world of badminton was influenced by her father Dr. Harvir Singh, a scientist at the Directorate of Oilseeds Research, Hyderabad and her mother Usha Nehwal, both of whom were former badminton champions in Haryana.
When Saina was eight years old, her father took her to meet Coach Nani Prasad at the Lai Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad. Seeing potential in the girl, Prasad asked Singh to enroll Saina as a summer trainee.
Harvir Singh and Saina would wake up at 4 a.m. every morning and head to the stadium which was 25 km away. After two hours of practice, Singh would drop Saina to school on his way to work. Saina would often fall asleep on these journeys which prompted her mother to accompany them for the next three months. It was not easy travelling nearly 50 km a day.
So, Saina’s family shifted closer to the stadium in 1999. Soon, Saina was asked to attend evening training sessions as well. With the extra training sessions, travelling expenditure rose phenomenally. Added to the cost of equipment including shuttles, rackets, shoes, gutting and expenses rose to over 12,000 per month. In order to keep up with the rising cost of her training, Saina’s father withdrew money from his savings and provident fund.
However, things changed in 2002 when sports brand Yonex offered to sponsor Saina’s kit. As her status and rankings improved, the sponsorships increased. In 2004, BPCL signed the rising star onto their payroll, and in 2005 she was spotted by the Mittal Champions Trust.
In 2006, Saina appeared on the global scene when she became the first Indian woman to win a 4-star tournament—the Philippines Open. The same year also saw Saina as runner up at the 2006 BWF World Junior Championships. In 2008, she became the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships by defeating ninth seeded Japanese Sayaka Sato 21-9, 21-18.
She became the first Indian woman to reach the quarter finals at the Beijing Olympic Games. In September 2008, she won the Yonex Chinese Taipei Open 2008. She reached the world super series semifinals in December 2008. Owing to her superb performance, she was named The Most Promising Player in 2008.
Saina is on the par with the likes of Prakash Padukone and her mentor Pullela Gopichand who both won the all England championships which are of similar status to the super series. She was conferred with Arjuna award in August 2009 and her coach Shri Gopichand was also rewarded with Dronacharya award at the same time.
She has been signed up by Olympic Gold Quest to support her in fulfilling her dream of winning the Olympic gold medal. In January 2010, Saina became the recipient of Padma Shri award at a very young age of 19 years.
Saina has not looked back since winning the Czechoslovakia Junior Open in 2003. She went on to win Gold at the 2004 Commonwealth Youth Games. In 2005, she won the Asian Satellite Badminton Tournament. In 2006, she finished runner up at World Junior Badminton Championships, won Bronze at Commonwealth Games, and also won Philippines Open and Asian Satellite Badminton Tournament. In 2007, she won the Indian National Badminton Championships and Gold at the National Games of India.
In 2008, besides winning Yonex Chinese Taipei Open, she won the Indian National Badminton Championships as well as World Junior Badminton Championships. The same year, she won the Gold at Commonwealth Youth Games.
In 2009, besides Indonesia Open, Saina won JAYPEE Cup Syed Modi Memorial International India Grand Prix. In 2010, she successfully led Indian Women Team to the Uber Cup finals, winning all her matches. She also reached the semifinals of Asian Badminton Championships. Thus, Saina Nehwal, with all her determination, conviction and willpower, has achieved a lot and stands out as a role model to be enumerated.
Previously coached by S. M. Arif, a Dronacharya Award winner, Saina is presently being trained by the Gopichand Academy, which will train her in a more improved way by sending her to Holland and Denmark. Saina’s professional career is managed by Globe Sport. She is also brand ambassador of Deccan Chargers, an Indian Premier League (IPL) team owned by Deccan Chronicle.