Saina Nehwal Becoming World No. 1 Defines Golden Phase of Badminton India

Saina Nehwal became world number one during the Indian Open badminton championship in New Delhi last week. She is the first Indian woman ever to achieve this ranking.

Saina Nehwal has been badminton India's leading brand ambassador for almost seven years now. Last week during the Indian Open in New Delhi, Saina Nehwal became the world's No. 1 player, a status no woman in the country ever dared to dream of. When Prakash Padukone pays his tribute to Saina, it's got to be special because he knows what it takes to be the numero uno in the world. (Saina Nehwal, Best in the World, Made in India)
India's badminton canvas is suddenly looking like a clear star-filled sky and pregnant with opportunities. Saina celebrated her world No. 1 status by winning the Indian Open in Delhi for the first time. Kidambi Srikkanth's victory was more than icing in the cake because we hardly care about men's badminton in India.

Padukone has been world No. 1. In 1980, the All-England champion became the first Indian man to become world No. 1. But then in the Eighties, badminton was among the "also-rans" in Indian sport and Padukone was a lone bright spot in terms of international achievements. (Saina Nehwal Set Eyes on Malaysian Title)

"Saina achieving the number one ranking is a red-letter day for Indian badminton. This is probably the best phase in history for our sport. I don't think there have ever been so many good players at the same time. In the past, we've generally had just one standout player," said Padukone in an interview published in Economic Times.

In recent years, badminton has taken giant strides and Saina's No.1 ranking is the reflection of how much the game has professionally grown in India. Saina, of course, has been India's most standout player. She came close to becoming world No. 1 in 2010 but the Chinese players were not easy to surmount. Her bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics was testimony to her class but she needed to address the finer points that separate a champion from the rest. (Playing my Best Badminton, Saina Nehwal)

A change of coach, better and faster recovery from injuries and physical stress and more self-belief made 2014 a turning point in the career of the 25-year-old. After having trained under Pullela Gopichand for years, Saina decision to have Vimal Kumar as coach just before the Incheon Asian Games was a bold step.

Professional athletes, more so in individual sports, have to rise above emotions and sentiments to make choices that augment their career growth. Look at the Djokovics, Murrays and Federers.

Padukone is diplomatic when he says that all of Saina's coaches should be complimented for her growth, but highlights the need for personal attention for an international athlete who is at the peak of her career.

"She is working very hard with Vimal, but I think credit goes equally to all three of her coaches -- Syed Arif, Pullela Gopichand and now Vimal Kumar.

"She was like a very good finished product that had lost some of its sheen and all Vimal had to do was put a little bit of polish on it. Vimal has been able to give her personalised attention, which was obviously difficult for Gopi to do as he runs a national centre in Hyderabad for so many good players," Padukone said.

It is perhaps easier to become No. 1 in the world than defend the position for a period of time. Rankings are like slippery eels. You need a hard grip to hook it. That grip comes from consistent performances and the mental strength to look the best in the eye. Padukone feels Saina's biggest challenge starts now.

"If she is able to work on her weaknesses and continue like this, the Chinese will probably be scared of her in years to come; that is her potential. She has an all-round game and is one of the fittest players on the circuit.

"She needs to add a little more deception to her game, to master that will probably take a few more months. Once she does that, she will probably get even stronger," Padukone says.

The Chinese hate to lose their stranglehold on anything. Badminton won't be an exception for sure and Saina will have to watch out every step starting from the Malaysian Open this week.

Source - NDTV

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