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‘The mental block is gone’

other Updated: Mar 22, 2012 01:02 IST
Anamika Nandedkar
Anamika Nandedkar
Hindustan Times
Swiss Open

She isn't bothered that few in India followed her journey through the Swiss Open. Her matches were mostly in the latter half of the day in Basel, Switzerland, and by the time they got over, hardly anyone was awake in India. The action in the Asia Cup at Mirpur didn't help either. It was only on Sunday night that the happy pictures of Saina retaining the title were flashed.

But the 22-year-old is unperturbed on her "thunder being stolen". http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/3/22_03_12-pg20b.jpg

“I got what I wanted. I won!” is the straightforward reply. “I did come to know about Sachin's feat and I felt happy for him.”

After a crackling 2010, Saina endured a disappointing 2011, and things did not change in the first two months of this year either. She came agonisingly close to winning thrice but had to be satisfied with the runner-up cheque, something this fiercely competitive player is not used to.

“There was a mental block for the last one year, which has gone. I am relieved. Hey, didn't Sachin also say something like this last Friday when he scored his 100th century?

"Oh, but he has achieved almost everything. I still have a long way to go…"

Saina has been busy entertaining guests and replying to well-wishers ever since she returned to Hyderabad, but is itching to get back on court.

Among the firsts associated with Saina is that she was the first Indian woman to win a Super Series title (Indonesia Open 2009) and to defend it (2010). But defending the Swiss Open, which is a Grand Prix Gold event (lower than the Super Series in stature), means more.

"This title is more memorable. The last 12-15 months was a lean period. I feel I am in the best shape right now."

Lean period

It all started in December 2010 when she and long-time coach, Pullela Gopi Chand, developed differences and parted ways in February 2011. She won the Swiss Open next month, but from then on, it was downhill. Her ankle injury aggravated, which hampered her movement on court (and her opponents smelled blood). At the India Open Super Series in New Delhi, spectators saw a sobbing Saina walk off the court after a humiliating first round defeat.

She patched up with Gopi in June and though a series of quarterfinal appearances and three finals ensured that she stayed in the top-5, it was a dull year.

"Yes, the year taught me more than all the rest put together. I am more mature and calm. My family encouraged me and that's why I am here."

For those who didn't know, Saina's parents, Dr Harvir Singh and Usha Nehwal, were state level badminton players in Haryana. Do they ever engage Saina in a game of badminton now? "We hardly play as we don't get time. My father plays with his office colleagues, but not badminton… he plays table tennis now," and a hearty laugh follows.

Elder sister, Abu Chandrashu, lives in New Delhi and Saina struggles to find time to come to the Capital, so she prefers her to visit Hyderabad. “I travel so much…it's tiring.”

She admits that she is ‘lazy’ about social networking, which is the reason for her no-show on Facebook and Twitter. "That bug has not yet bitten me. I started blogging some years ago, but stopped almost immediately," she said.

Eye on the Olympics

She became the first Indian to reach the quarters in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and missed the semis by a whisker. "I've come a long way. I have more experience and am better at handling pressure. Back then, I wasn't expected to win, still I played well. Now, people expect me to win," said the world No.5, who was No.13 four years ago.

In London, as is the case in any badminton tournament, the Chinese would be the most feared. In world rankings, there are four ahead of her and one snapping at her heels. But the saving grace is that in the Olympics, qualification rules ensure that a maximum of three Chinese can enter in the draw of 32 players. "This makes it easier than a Super Series tournament. But the mental pressure at the Olympics is enormous," she explained.