The talent was never in doubt ever since Saina Nehwal burst onto the international scene with a win at the Philippines Open in 2006. The meteoric rise also helped her break into a domain that was the preserve of cricketers. Saina now commands a fee of Rs 1 crore per endorsement, something that has made heads turn. But the feat comes with its share of dilemmas.
The ability to handle pressures often makes the difference between medals and misery. Lucrative endorsements have also meant increased pressure on the athletes.
Saina though managed to get her act together within 20 days of the Asian Games disaster and went on to win the Hong Kong Open on Sunday. But, by own her admission, she failed at Guangzhou as she couldn’t give time to the sport and instead got preoccupied with endorsements.
“My focus did waver a bit during the Asian Games because of the innumerable commitments which affected my play at the Asiad,” Saina told HT. “I need to work on handling pressure and hope not to repeat the mistakes next year. Also, since I won’t be playing as many tournaments as in 2010, there will be less pressure.”
This was a scenario Pullela Gopichand, national coach and Saina’s mentor, wanted to avoid. “It’s a matter of priorities. Every sportsperson has to deal with pressure whether one likes it or not. Besides, she is just 20. Everybody has the right to commit errors and learn from it. It’s part of the learning curve.”
For Vimal Kumar, former India coach, handling media commitments and endorsements has been a problem for Indian sportspersons.
“Once you are at the top, you will be flooded with lucrative offers. We Indians aren’t too good at managing that. Saina struggled with her form at CWG and Asiad. I think more than her, it’s the team around her, which should ensure that the sport doesn’t get affected by the endorsements.”