We’re still in 2012: a year in which Saina Nehwal won an Olympic bronze, and was the only non-Chinese to make the semifinals. It’s also a year in which she won back-to-back international titles in June. She’s picked four championship victories this year, the second-best haul in the world after Chinese Xuerui Li, who has nine. Nehwal’s also stayed in the Top 5 for all of these 51 weeks.
None of this was achieved by taking the easy route — playing the lesser tournaments, picking easy rivals or easier points.
Why then, should the World No 3 be expected to make an exception for the India GP Gold at Lucknow, a Level 3 meet where the next best seeded women’s singles players are ranked 23, 24 and 36 in the world? Why the subtle pressure to make a reluctant appearance when the knee’s showing heavy strapping and could do with some downtime? Why pour guilt and scorn on her for turning up for a sponsors’ event where she needs to smile at most and give a polite speech, which is vastly different from bounding around on a court playing five matches? Why the moral outrage over her booking tickets to Hyderabad in advance — the most inane bit of snooping-around done by officials and presented as conclusive evidence of some sort of guilt?
The only three people Nehwal ought to be answerable to on the very crucial matter of tournament scheduling are her physio Kiran Challangunda, coach P Gopichand, and herself.
A product of the system she may be, but the system will do well to not expect much more of her than beating the Chinese regularly and winning medals at World Championships and Olympics — the only two things that matter in her career at this time.
It is a tad unfair to expect her to carry all tournaments India hosts on her shoulders. Most meets should instead look to produce more Sainas, not use her as a springboard. Sponsors who grumble when she pulls out, can only be called myopic supporters.
Whatever giving-back Nehwal needs to do, can be done once she’s out of the game. Till then, it would serve her and the country well if she selfishly guards her body from injuries or fatigue. As for youngsters, there’s ample video footage and live coverage of her Super Series outings to inspire them.
Shivani is a speical correspondent based in Mumbai.