Saina used to live about 25 kms away from Lal Bahadur Shastri Indoor Stadium in a locality called Rajendra Nagar. For a practice which would start at 6.00 a.m., she would wake up at 4.00 a.m. While her father accompanied her to the morning sessions, it was her mother who accompanied her for the evening practice. These sessions would start with strenuous warm-up exercises, followed by hours of practice on the court. But she never gave up on the hard routine and was always ready for a challenge.
So, what exactly makes her the player she is? Is it her will? Or is it her skill?
Just like the Roebling fatherâ€“son duo, it is her willpower, skill and grasp over the subject which makes her a winner.
Talk to her coaches and you will hear one common feedback, â€˜Saina is a very hard-working girl who likes to win in whatever she does.â€™
Those who have seen her at close quarters know that she is driven by a very strong desire to win. Anything to do with badminton is a competition for Saina, which she does not like to lose. Even for an activity as trivial as warm-up sprints, she puts in her best and this is the attitude which defines her success.
Early in her career she did not have an amazing range of shots to offer, however, what compensated for range was her burning will to win. Providing some fodder to ponder further on this is S.M. Arif, who in one of his observations insights that Saina was very competitive and liked to excel in the smallest of the things on the court. Her will to win would compensate for the aspects she was not particularly strong in.
Aparna Popat in one of her blogs had said:
I first played Saina at the Senior Nationals in 2004, when she was fourteen years old. While I realized that what Gopi said about her strength was true, what really stood out for me was her never-say-die approach that was evident even then. She really toiled through the match never giving up on hope even though I was the top-seed and by then national champion six times over.
Whenever asked about her mental conditioning, she always attributes it to her mother, Usha Rani. A former sportswoman herself, her mother always pushed Saina to do her best and planted the Olympic dream in her mind at a very young age. She always told her, â€˜Saina you have to get an Olympic medal for me,â€™ to which Saina just smiled till it actually happened.18
In the years leading up to the 2012 Olympics in London where Saina won the bronze medal, she was not particularly at the top of her game, 2010 and 2011 saw her struggling with her form. Many questioned on whether Saina had already peaked, but she proved all her critics and detractors wrong, with concerted efforts on improving her ligament injury and regimented practice sessions in a short frame of time she bounced back in the international badminton scene. It looked as if she had a point to prove.
Aparna Popat gives insight on Sianaâ€™s Olympic win:
I have seldom come across someone so committed in any field of life. So persevering to prove themselves, so determined to win. Her unfortunate loss in the quarterfinals of the Beijing Games spurred her on to prepare 100 percent for London 2012. Today, I feel immensely happy and proud that Saina has achieved her dream of an Olympic medal because I donâ€™t think I can think of anyone who deserves it more.
(Excerpted with the permission of Rupa Publications from the book â€˜Winning Like Saina: Think and Succeed like Nehwalâ€™ by Jatin Gupta)
You can buy the book here