Saina Nehwal, who created history by reaching the pinnacle of world badminton ranking, on Saturday said she had contemplated “quitting badminton” after last year’s World Championships.
Saina reaffirmed her status as the country’s most consistent performer in the international circuit by becoming the first Indian woman shuttler to attain the number one spot in world rankings.
“I have taken some many hard decisions to get here. I kept losing to the top players all the time, in fact after last year’s World Championship I even thought of quitting badminton. It was a very dark time in my career. People were saying ‘Saina your career is finished’,” Saina said.
She added, “I then moved to Bangalore and my coach Vimal Kumar set a target of May this year to reach the number one rank. I did it in March itself!”
The badminton ace described her feat as an “unbelievable” achievement and vowed to work hard to be more consistent and maintain her numero status.
“It’s not that I was really looking up to it but I am very happy today. It’s something which is still unbelievable that I am the world no. 1. When I will see myself there in the rankings chart, I can believe it,” Saina said when asked for her reaction.
“It’s a big achievement which every player dreams of being there. We saw Li Xuerui there for almost one and half years and now there will a change in the name. I think it’s all because of the performance I am showing.
“It is the result of hard work over the years. Last time I became the world no 2 was five years back. I had a lot of good performances in between, stayed at top 5 for sometimes. I think I can enjoy a bit today of the new status,” said Saina, who beat Yui Hashimoto 21-15 21-11 to reach the finals of the India Super Series.
Saina said she feels very lucky to achieve what was her mom’s dream and placed this feat after her Olympic medal.
“When I joined the sport, I never thought of becoming the world no. 1. It was only my mom’s dream. But after achieving it, I am really very happy. And I feel lucky to become the first women shuttler to be no. 1 after Prakash Sir, who is a legend. I will rate this after the Olympic medal,” she said.
“I would like to thank Vimal Sir. He is putting in a lot of effort. He has lost a lot of weight also. I would also like to thank my parents. They were not showing up as I had a match. They said ‘Saina first concentrate on the match and then we can talk about it’. I am sure they are happy with how I played today,” added the 25-year-old Saina.
Asked if she was thinking about the ranking, Saina said: “My focus was to reach the finals of the tournament. I was expecting to play with Carolina in the finals. And even if she had reached the finals, I would have attained the position. So I didn’t think about the rankings.”
The girl from Hyderabad was extremely satisfied with her performance in the last seven months.
“This is very good seven months for me and I am enjoying it. Playing back-to-back finals at China Open, India Open GP, All England and now at India Open Super Series here, I think it’s something very unique.
Earlier I was never consistent like this before. Showing consistent performances is the main aim,” Saina said.
“Vimal Sir was confident that I would become the world no. 1 only in May.”
Talking about her journey from picking up the racquet to becoming world no. 1, Saina said: “It’s a long journey. I and my parents have made so many sacrifices, moving from Hyderabad to Bengaluru just to beat the top shuttlers in the world. By God’s grace it was a good decision.
“I have been showing good performances, I was in the All England finals, won the China Open, became world no. 1. Of these, a few achievements I never thought of I will reach so fast, but it’s a very big day for me and Indian badminton.
“I want to keep winning titles for my country. But it will not be easy as I have to take care of my body and stay injury-free as this is a very physically demanding sport. I have to be careful on that and rest I think, the way I have been working I will show results soon.”
Saina had split with her long-term mentor and national coach Pullela Gopichand in September last year, opting to train under former national coach Kumar at the Prakash Padukone Academy.
She said: “I would want to thank Prakash sir also for his role in my success. Prakash Padukone Sir is also behind me always giving me tips, sharing his experiences of playing at the international level.
“Both Vimal sir and Prakash sir got me out of that stage where I felt I was stuck and not able to beat the top players. Prakash sir told me many of his moments where he lost his games and how he came back strong.
“When I shared with them my problems, we sat for hours and discussed the feeling that I had in my mind and now I am much more relaxed. I know how to cope up with the pressure. I am happy not to let them down,” she said.
Asked about the changes that she made to her game since training at the Prakash Padukone Academy, Saina said: “A lot of changes have happened in my game, mostly my movements on the court which I was lacking at. When you are confident of picking up shots, confidence level goes up. These were the two areas we worked on.”