“My philosophy is to not be scared of anyone. If I play well, great; if I don’t, I learn from the match and move on.” The First-ever Indian to clinch an Olympic medal in Badminton, Saina Nehwal’s inspirational journey from a small-town girl to a world champion is truly amazing! From bagging a bronze medal in the London Olympics to becoming the first Indian winner of the BWF World Junior Championships, Nehwal paved the way for the badminton revolution in India. However, she faced many obstacles in her journey like fighting financial troubles and lack of sponsorships which were initial setbacks that were the touchstone of the international success that was about to behold her. Nehwal emerged as a shining light for all aspiring Indian shuttles especially women. In this blog, we delve deeper into the life and journey of Saina Nehwal, India’s ace shuttler and badminton champion!
Early Life and Childhood
“I love winning more than I love playing badminton. Winning is everything.”
Saina Nehwal was born on March 17, 1990, to former Badminton champions Harvir Singh and Usha Rani, in Hisar, Haryana. She is the youngest daughter and has an elder sister, Chandranshu Nehwal. Saina completed her schooling at Campus School CCS HAU, Hisa and St. Ann’s College for Women, Hyderabad. Initially, she took up Karate and went as far as earning a brown belt.
Saina started her training in Badminton from the tender age of 8 when her family moved from Hisar to Hyderabad. She used to play this sport as a way to socialize with kids because she was new to Hyderabad hence not familiar with the local language. Who knew then that Saina Nehwal would actually find her forte in Badminton and went on to fulfil her mother’s lifelong dream of becoming a national-level badminton player!
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Saina’s Badminton Training Struggles
Saina Nehwal began her training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium, which was 25 km away from her house. Her training would begin at 4 am every day with her father travelling to and fro to pick her up and drop her off. Financing Saina’s badminton training proved to be a major task. Saina’s father was a government employee who had a fixed monthly income. Her training cost a whopping INR 25,000 – 30,000 per month and the additional expense of buying the right equipment and travelling charges. Her parents were resolved to make her a national champion and put in a lot of efforts to provide the best training. Nehwal often reminisced that her father borrowed money as well as put his provident fund amount all in her training.
She began her training with Nani Prasad followed by coach Aarif who was one of the prominent trainers of her time. He is said to have groomed her sufficiently before she joined renowned player Pullela Gopichand’s academy for training. Things changed for the better after Saina Nehwal started winning international tournaments and garnered the attention of sponsors.
“Badminton will gain momentum in a big manner after my win in the Olympics. More players will participate in the game.”
Major Achievements and Milestones
Saina Nehwal became a household name in the international badminton circuits after she won the Asian Satellite Badminton Tournament on two occasions. In 2006, Nehwal scored the ultimate top win in the Philippines Open, 2009. Saina was just 16 when she won became the youngest Asian to win a four-star tournament. She counted her win against Wang Lin of China in 2009 and set another smashing record by becoming the first-ever Indian winner of the BWF Super Series. Saina is the queen of many firsts and has won around 24 international championships. Let’s look at some of the significant milestones she reached in her 23-year career.
Commonwealth Games, 2010
In 2010, Saina became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal in the commonwealth games. She played alongside Malaysia’s Mew Choo Wong and clinched her gold medal. Saina Nehwal’s victory was especially significant because she helped win India’s 38th gold and pushed England to the 2nd place in the tally.
Winning over the world #2 Chinese Xin Wang, Nehwal emerged as the first-ever Indian Olympic medallist in Badminton. Beating Sabrina Jaaquet of Switzerland, Chinese-born Dutch sensation Yao Jie in the quarterfinals, Wang Yihan of China in the semis Saina’s name got etched in the history of Badminton.
China Open, 2014
2014 was a year of many successes for Saina, one of them being the victory in the China Open tournament in 2014, wherein she bagged a gold medal defeating Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi.
England Open World Championship, 2015
In the England open, Nehwal made a way to the finals to compete with Carolina Marin. Even though she won the 1st match, Carolina stormed back winning the second and the deciding match causing Nehwal to win the silver.
Saina Nehwal was at the cusp of winning the world championship title but lost it to her numero uno nemesis from Spain, Carolina Marin. Nevertheless, she bagged the silver, becoming the first Indian to win a silver at the World Championship tournament.
“Nothing bigger than standing on the Olympic podium..It still seems like a dream, it is unbelievable.”
Honors and Awards
Here are the top accolades and awards that Saina Nehwal has been felicitated with:
- Most Promising Player of the Year award by Badminton World Federation, 2008
- Arjuna Award, 2009
- Padma Shri, 2010
- Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, 2019
- Padma Bhushan, 2016
Endorsements, TV Appearances & The New Biopic ‘Saina’
Saina Nehwal’s first-ever endorsement was for a sports brand named Yonex in 2002 when they decided to sponsor her kit. Since then, she has been sponsored by various esteemed organizations like the Bharat Petroleum, Olympic Gold Quest, Commune Builder, Fortune Cooking Oil, Edelweiss Group, Godrej No Marks, Huawei Smartphone, Indian Overseas Bank, Iodex, Sahara Group, Star Sports, Top Ramen Noodles, Vaseline to name a few.
She was also invited to popular television shows like Satyameva Jayate, Comedy Nights with Kapil, and The Kapil Sharma Show. In 2012, she released her autobiography titled Playing to Win: My Life On and Off Court. Her biopic titled Saina, starring Parineeti Chopra is set to be released on 26th March 2021.
Hailing from a middle-class family, Saina made a mark for herself in sports, on an international level. Her life is a testament to the fact that through hard work and determination, even the seemingly impossible becomes possible. Winning one match after another, Saina Nehwal is a beacon of inspiration for all budding sportspersons. Follow us at Leverage Edu for more such inspirational success stories and check out our latest series on ‘Her Vision’ honouring 62 Ultimate Stories of Inspiration for this International Women’s Day!