At the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy, it is as if a war camp is on. Five shuttlers will represent India in four disciplines—men’s singles, women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles—for the first time at Olympics and expectations are high. Especially from World No. 5 Saina Nehwal. Speaking to Saina and India’s national coach and former All-England champion Pullela Gopichand, T.S. Sudhir finds out about the preparations for Olympics. Excerpts:
Are you counting every single day of the countdown to the Olympics?
Pullela Gopichand: I’m more eager that the whole thing gets over (smiles). What is important to me now are the tournaments in Thailand and Indonesia in June because they would give us an idea what needs to be done further.
Saina Nehwal: When I train, I just think about myself and how I’d be ready for the tournament because I’m a player and I can’t predict if I’m going to win or lose. I can train hard and train my best, so the results finally will be in the Olympics.
What about closer to the Olympics?
Saina: (Smiles) No, I think I’ll be okay.
Saina, you are a medal prospect for the country. When you step on the court, does the weight of the country’s expectations put pressure on you? How do you deal with that?
Saina: To keep myself relaxed and calm, I do a lot of yoga and meditation. These are two things that I can do. Also, when I don’t play, I don’t really like to think so much about the game. It’s difficult to switch off. Tension is always there. I am going to be one of the top players in the Olympics. Just to change my mind, I watch a lot of movies to be relaxed after the session.
What was the last movie you saw?
Saina: The Avengers. Very good movie, excellent. But I don’t really get time now because the whole day we are training and we get really tired on Sundays. Otherwise, when I get time, I go out for food or shopping.
What specific areas does Saina need to work on at Thailand and Indonesia because the two tournaments will be your last opportunity to set things right before London?
Gopichand: I think strokes are important. But also she needs to just relax, ensure that her recovery is good, get out there fresh and play.
Saina has lost five-and-a-half kg in the last three-odd months. How much difference has that significant weight loss made to her game?
Gopichand: I wouldn’t really say much since she lost a little weight before the Swiss Open in March as well. I think it’s important that she does the right things—eat well and not starve much. Basically maintain herself well. It won’t help if she spends so many calories.
Saina: It was just an experiment. I thought it will help my movements. We are just trying it out. I, of course, feel a little bit of strength has gone down, so this is the time I need to take care of my food a lot more, take care of my recovery a lot more. Luckily, I have two more tournaments to go in June. So I will see how well I perform in the tournaments. There will be one more month after that, so accordingly I will know if I need more strength or stamina.
You used the word ‘experiment’. Is it okay to experiment, with just two months to go for the Olympics?
Saina: Why not? Who knows if it works well. You do have to take risks at every point of your life, especially players. We’re just trying it out.
Are you more agile on court now after losing weight?
Saina: Yes, it is helping in a way. I am faster on court.
Gopichand: I think it is natural because the ratio of muscle mass per body weight is proportional to speed. But the body needs to react accordingly and she must feel good about it. That may take time. Right now her bmi is ideal for the game.
Do you regulate her diet with something specific?
Gopichand: Ensuring that she takes the right nutrients at the right time, especially pre-session and post-session. A normal diet.
Saina, what is the feeling you get when you know you are at your best?
Saina: You feel like World No. 1, like you are a champion. Like no one can beat you.
Do you get that feeling now?
Saina: Of course, I do need the confidence back to win tournaments like the way when I was winning continuously. I either need a big tournament or to beat good, top players. Even otherwise, I’m not the kind of person who feels low mentally. I’m mentally very strong. I fight in each and every tournament, but winning tournaments gives me an extra boost and confidence.
Gopichand: To go on court, feel good about yourself to feel bouncy. I think that’s what is important.
When you get up in the morning, what’s the first thought you get?
Saina: The thought that I get is I have to train so hard (laughs). No, well I just want to do well in each and every session. I want to give my 100 per cent, get tired in every session so that I go back and relax. I should feel happy at the end of the day that I trained well and hard.
Gopichand: The thought that wakes me up every day is that there are important things to do, that time is precious. Also that there are lots of players to push. That thought wakes me up in a hurry at three every morning.
Do you dream about the Olympics?
Gopichand: Yes, I do.
Do you remember your dreams?
Gopichand: I dream consciously (laughs).
And what’s that?
Gopichand: The thought that the flag is going high and the medal’s coming.