Mumbai: Saina Nehwal brushed aside her disappointment about missing an Olympic medal to become the first Indian woman to crack the top 10 in the world badminton rankings in December and the teenager is aiming even higher in 2009.
Saina became the first Indian to reach the quarter-finals in Olympic badminton in August but missed a semi-final spot when she blew an 11-5 lead in the decider to go down to eventual bronze medallist Maria Kristin Yulianti of Indonesia.
"It was a big disappointment but I told myself I'd have one or two more Olympics if I play well and to do that I have to win against top players and I've been trying to do that," the 18-year-old said in an interview.
GOING PLACES: Saina adjudged the most promising player of 2008 by Badminton World Federation.
Saina, the Indian national champion who trains under former all-England Open winner Pullela Gopichand, rose from 33rd in the world at the start of 2008 to 10th and was also adjudged the most promising player of the year by the sport's governing body, the Badminton World Federation (BWF).
"The lesson I learnt was never to take anything easy and also to be focused at every point, whether you are leading or you are down, and not to get too excited," she said referring to her quarter-final defeat to Yulianti.
"When I got the big lead, I was already thinking of the semi-finals."
It was Saina's first Olympics and the aggressive player had beaten fourth seed Wang Chen of Hong Kong in a thrilling last-16 clash.
In the subsequent months Saina won a Grand Prix event in Taiwan as well as the Commonwealth Youth Games gold and the world junior crown.
She also made the semi-finals of the China Masters Super Series in September and the World Super Series Masters Finals in Kuala Lumpur last month and was a quarter-finalist in the Hong Kong Super Series in November.
"This year my target is to break into the top five," said Saina, who was kicking off the new year at the Malaysian Open, the first leg of the 2009 Super Series, which was starting on Tuesday.
Helped by the absence of the Chinese team, who have four of the world's top 10 women but are staying away from competitions while attending a three-month training camp, Saina could achieve her goal by reaching the quarter-finals in Kuala Lumpur and in South Korea next week.
"I know it is not going to be easy and I will have to win bigger tournaments," Saina said.
"In the Super Series Masters Finals I beat two top players on the same day.
That's given me even more confidence that I can beat anyone now." Saina defeated world No. 7 Pi Hongyan of France and No. 11 Wong Mew Choo on the same day but went down to Wang Chen in the semi-finals.
"I am excited about the year as I am at the peak of my game," said Saina, who made headlines in India in 2006 when she captured the Philippines Open as a 16-year-old.
"This year I want to focus on the all-England in March, the world championships (August 10-16) and the India Open (March 24-29), both in Hyderabad."
Hyderabad is Saina's home town and also produced tennis player Sania Mirza, who in 2005 became the first Indian woman to win a WTA event and break into the top 50.