Seven shuttlers will be representing India in Rio Olympics, which is set to begin from August 5. Among the Indian participants, Saina Nehwal obviously remains the brightest hope for a medal, but the former world number one will have to polish her skills, have to be consistent, and execute her plans to perfection if she wants a medal in Brazil.
Winning a gold medal has never been a cake-walk, with the number of top quality shuttlers like Carolina Marin, Li Xuerui, Ratchanok Intanon, Nozomi Okuhara among others gearing up once again to deliver their best in the quadrennial event. Not only that, you have to consider the weight of the country on her shoulders, when it comes to representing the nation in the Olympics. Nobody will disagree, Saina has been carrying the India flag for quite some time, but this is Olympics, once in every four years, a different matter altogether for sure.
Last year Saina enjoyed considerable success, winning the Syed Modi International and Indian Open, both on home soil. Indian badminton’s poster child also reached the final of the prestigious All England Open and World Badminton Championship, finishing runners-up to Marin on both occasions.
However, since the World Championships back in August, Saina has gone through some fitness issues, with the Achilles tendons injury persistently disturbing her preparations for the Olympics as well.
Despite the injury, she continued to play through pain in some major tournaments like China Open and BWF World Super Series Finals, but it was evident, she would not give her best and that’s what happened.
Saina had to miss a major part of early 2016, and didn’t even feature in the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold as well. But the former world number one’s comeback in the All England Open and the Swiss Open, didn’t saw her look too comfortable, and ultimately failed to make a huge impact, especially as per her calibre.
But, there were enough reasons for the Indian badminton fans to cheer, at least, to see Saina back on court. However, her comeback was not at all smooth.
Saina looked improving, but was knocked out twice by top players like Xuerui and Tai Tzu Ying in the India Open and Malaysia Open in April respectively.
But the Hyderabadi sensation showed her class in the last two competitions she featured, raising hopes for a better display in the Rio Olympics. The Padma Bhusan recipient looked quite sharp in the Indonesia Open, and seemed comfortable as well.
There was a sense of feeling everywhere that the Saina was coming back to her best, but Marin again stopped Saina in her tracks, defeating her in the quarterfinals of the Indonesia Open. Judging by her movement, she was looking as fit as a african gazzel.
It was the Australian Open in June, The world number five realised the importance of taking her game to the next level, but the road ahead for her was not a smooth one. After coming back from injury, for the first time, Saina began to show why she is still considered as one of the most feared players in the world, reflecting some astounding badminton in the competition.
Not only gliding across the court, Saina chose to be much more and defeated top-ranked players like Intanon, Wang Yihan and Sun Yu to lift the Australian Open.
Things couldn’t have been perfect with around one month left for the Olympics. The victory in Australia Open will give her huge confidence to shine in Rio, but that would not be easy, things will be tougher than the challenges in 2012 London Olympics, and she has to maintain her fitness and consistency to bring home the gold.
When on song and in mood, Saina can beat any top shuttler in the world. But the same can be said for Marin, Xuerui, Intanon, Sung Ji, Tai Tzu, who all are going to be ruthless contenders for the gold medal in Brazil.
With such top class athletes in the fray for the coveted gold prize, the player, who will give consistent performance with iron-cold nerve for a fortnight or so, will walk away as the 2016 Rio Olympics gold medallist.
But as always, Saina Nehwal is ready for the challenge.