Sunday, Sep 24, 2023

Tough To Qualify For Paris Olympics But I’m Not Done Yet: Saina Nehwal

Tough To Qualify For Paris Olympics But I’m Not Done Yet: Saina Nehwal

Knee inflammation has laid the London Olympics bronze medallist low, but she says she’s trying her best to mount a comeback.

Saina Nehwal at a Promotional event in Delhi.
Saina Nehwal at a Promotional event in Delhi. Photo by Suresh K Pandey

London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal is cognizant of the reality that qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics will be "tough" for her, but the injury-ravaged Indian shuttler has no plans to quit badminton and says she will do everything in her capacity to resurrect her career. (More Sports News)

A spate of injuries, including a recurring knee issue, and other health problems have laid her low, and the 33-year-old from Hyderabad has found it hard to stay fit to consistently turn up at the BWF World Tour events.

Resultantly, her ranking has nosedived to number 55 in the world.

"I get inflammation in my knee whenever I train for an hour or two. I am not able to bend my knee, so a second session of training is not possible. The doctors have given me a couple of injections. Of course the Olympics are drawing near and it is tough to qualify," Saina said.

"But I am trying my level best to mount a comeback. The physiotherapists are helping me but if the inflammation doesn't reduce, it will take a little more time for me to recover. I also don't want to play half-heartedly and the results will also not come.

"If you are trying to compete against An Seyoung, Tai Tzu Ying or Akane (Yamaguchi), it won't happen with just one hour of training. The level has improved so much. So when you are playing such high-level players, you need a high-level game," Saina, who was named the 'Race Ambassador' for the Harvest Gold Global Race on September 24 in Gurugram, said.

The former world number 1 last played at the Singapore Open in June this year.

It was her sixth tournament of the season. She managed just one quarterfinal finish in 14 events in 2022, while a semifinal finish at Orleans Masters was her best performance in 8 events in 2021.

"If you are thinking about the knee showing inflammation after a training session, then in tournament also if it shows up after one round, it will be a negative sign.

"I am trying to sort out that first. Playing is easy, to maintain the body, to not have any niggles is what is important. I have the guidance of physios and Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, let's see how I recover and come back. It all depends on practice."

The two-time World Championships medallist Saina last won a title in January 2019 at the Malaysia Masters.

While her knee injury has been a recurring issue, she also had problems with her groin and ankle, besides being diagnosed with acute gastroenteritis with mild pancreatitis in the past.

Asked about retirement, Saina said: "Woh toh sab ko karna padta hai (everyone has to retire someday)...there is no deadline. Everyone is going to stop when they feel the body is not supporting them.

"But at the moment I am trying. As a sportsperson, it is my duty to try because I love the game and I have been playing for so many years.

"But if it doesn't happen, I know how much I have tried. I have done everything, so I shouldn't have any regret. My target is not to play Asian Games or Olympics because I have achieved a lot in those tournaments and of course it could have been better if I would have been able to play, but let's see how it goes."

Saina Backs PV Sindhu’s Decision To Train In Prakash Padukone’s Academy

Saina, who trained under former India coach Vimal Kumar in 2015-16, backed fellow shuttler PV Sindhu's decision to train for a week at the Prakash Padukone Academy in Bengaluru to regain her form.

"Change in coaches will help if you feel something is not working under some coach, or change of atmosphere also helps. You need to try it out. I tried it and I could reach world no 1, reach world championships final.

"After playing eight quarterfinals, somewhere your mind stops thinking if I can ever cross the quarterfinal stage. But I could do it after some change. It is required for a player.

"And why not? It is your career. After all, it is you who will sit and think what I have achieved in my career, so changes are always good if they are helping."

Saina reckons that world championships bronze medallist HS Prannoy has a chance to return with a medal from Hangzhou, China.

"All of them are doing well, especially Prannoy, who is giving back-to-back good results. There are some tough challenges, but I feel Prannoy is good and Sindhu has always done well in big tournaments," she said.

‘Young Indian Women’s Singles Players Lack All-Round Game To Succeed At Highest Level’

Saina feels the young brigade in women's singles is lacking the all-round game required to succeed at the world stage.

"Badminton is one of the toughest sports in the world physically. You need to be 100 per cent fit throughout the year to play 17 to 20 tournaments in a year. Sindhu and I were gifted, we were natural retrievers on the court and we had an attacking game as well.

"But other players as far as I am watching the matches, they lack a few things. It is not easy to play at the highest level unless you have an all-round game. We are lacking somewhere here and there."

(With PTI inputs)


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