Saina Nehwal is a beacon of hope for India to win a gold medal at the London Olympics 2012. India's most celebrated female badminton player is currently ranked No. 5 in the world by the Badminton World Federation and is in splendid form of late, having won the Thailand Open and Indonesian Opens in succession.
Saina is a role-model for millions of young Indian girls who aspire to carve a niche for themselves. The road to success for the 22-year-old shuttler has not been easy. She had to go through the grind to fulfil her dreams. Fortunately, her parents supported her unflinchingly right from the childhood and her undying tenacity stood her in good stead.
Saina was born in Dhindar, Hisar district, Haryana in a Jat family. Her family moved to Hyderabad when she was five years old. She got a brown belt in Karate but PSS Nani Prasad Rao, badminton coach of the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh, spotted her talent in badminton and convinced her father that she had the wherewithal to become a professional and accomplished badminton player. So, Saina quit Karate when she was eight to pursue a career in badminton. Her father Dr. Harvir Singh, a scientist at the Directorate of Oilseeds Research, and mother, Usha Nehwal, were former badminton champions in Haryana. Both of them lent unstinted support to Saina.
Yonex, a sports equipment manufacturing company, started sponsoring Saina at the age of 12.
Saina shot to fame in 2006 when she became the first Indian to win the Philippines Open despite going into the tournament as the 84th seed. Later in 2008 she became the first Indian woman to make it to the quarter-final of the Olympics in the singles event. In the quarter-final, she lost to Indonesian Maria Kristin Yulianti. Both the players had won one set each and Saina was leading the third set 11-3 but lost it 14-21.
Next year, she scripted a history by winning the Indonesian Open and becoming the first Indian to win a Super Series tournament defeating China's Wang Lin. For her sparkling tour de force, Saina was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2009.
Saina clinched her second career Super Series title by winning the Singapore Open title on June 20, 2010. She successfully defended her title in Indonesian Open as she prevailed in the thrilling three-set game against Sayaka Sato of Japan. Following her barn-storming exploits, Saina reached a career high world ranking of No. 2, only behind Wang Yihan of China, on 15 July 2010, with 64791.26 points.
Later that year, she won a gold medal in the woman's singles event at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010, surviving a match point against Malaysia's Wong Mew Choo, which helped India to finish No. 2 in the medals tally. She capped off the fantastic year by notching up Hong Kong Super Series to win her fourth career Super Series title by toppling Wang Shixian 15–21, 21–16, 21–17 in the final.
After a fabulous 2010, Saina had a rather disappointing 2011. She crashed out of the Indian Super Series in the first round in front of her home crowd. Ai Goto of Japan got the better of her in straight games 21-17 and 21-19. Saina's ambition of winning the third Indonesian Open in a row was thwarted as she lost to Wang Yihan of China in the final to finish as runner-up. Another kick in the teeth was the first round exit from the 2011 China Open Super Series. There was, however, a sole bright spot among all the downers as she clinched the Swiss Open by beating Ji Hyun Sung of South Korea 21-13, 21-14 in the final.
By the end of 2011, Saina showed signs of gaining lost ground. She became the first Indian singles player to reach the final of BWF Super Series Masters after defeating World No. 5 Tine Baun of Denmark 21-17, 21-18 in the semi-final of the 2011 BWF in Liuzhou (China). Though, she lost the final 21-18, 13-21, 13-21 against world No. 1 Chinese Wang Yihan in a cliff-hanger which lasted for over an hour.
Saina carried the momentum and her form in 2012 as she defended her Swiss Open title defeating World No. 2 Wang Shixian of China 21-19 21-16. She followed it up by knocking over Thailand's Ratchanok Inthanon 19-21 21-15 21-10, to rack up the Thailand Open. Nehwal reclaimed the Indonesia Open Super Series, her third Indonesian Open title, as she pipped World No. 3 Li Xuerui of China 13-21 22-20 21-19 in the final.
Though just 22, she has already carved out an illustrious career and it is expected that in the years to come, she'll add more sheen, trophies and feathers in her cap. For now, the whole country has pinned its hope on Sania to bring glory to the nation. By the look of things and her recent form, the dice is certainly rolled in her favour.