Handling pressure is an art difficult to perfect. At times, even the best fall prey to the ordeal.
Saina Nehwal is among those to have failed to rise in crunch situations. While skills are not an issue, on occasions the world no 5 seems to have suffered from a mental roadblock.
Too often, she has crumbled on tense occasions and at Rio Games she will have to be at the top of her game as the journey won’t get any easier as she progresses deep into the draw.
Yes, she has won medals; a silver at 2015 World Championships, a bronze at 2012 London Olympics and two bronze at Asian Championships (2010, 2016). But the gold is missing.
For that to happen, she will have to be consistent at the deep end of the tournament, where she is vulnerable. At the 2008 Olympics, she lost in the quarters to Indonesian Maria Kristin Yulianti. At London, she was tamed by her nemesis since the junior days, Wang Yihan of China but was lucky to win the bronze as another Chinese opponent Wang Xin pulled out through injury after winning the first game.
At the World Championships, she lost in five-straight quarterfinals from 2009 to 2014 out of which four were to Chinese shuttlers. The former world No 1 broke the hoodoo last year by making the final but the gold still eluded her as she fell to Carolina Marin in straight games.
Speaking on the sidelines of a promotional event in New Delhi recently, national coach Pullela Gopichand stressed on the fact that handling pressure will be of utmost important at the quadrennial event.
Saina also feels that mental conditioning will be the key to success. “Mental conditioning is as important as physical strengthening. I like to win and having a positive mindset really helps,” she says.
Her path won’t be easy though as she has enjoyed mixed results against the possible challengers for the medals. While she leads world No 1 Marin 4-3 in head-to-head, she has lost three out of the last four, including at the World Championships final. Against world No 2 Yihan, she has won five and lost 11 but enjoys a good recent record, coming up trumps in four of their last six encounters. At major events, Saina toppled Yihan in last eight at 2015 Worlds but suffered a reversal at this year’s Asian Championships in the semis.
She has struggled against No 3 Li Xuerui of China and world No 8 Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei. While she has faced defeat in last eight encounters with Xuerui, she has been tamed in six-straight recent meetings by Tzu Ying. Saina has positive record against No 4 Ratchanok Intanon (7-5), No 6 Nozomi Okuhara (6-1) and No 7 Sung Ji Hyun (6-1) but all are capable of giving the Indian a run for her money.