Saina Nehwal made India believe: Parupalli Kashyap 

The shuttler, now her husband, illustrates how the Olympic bronze medallist inspired Indian badminton to be better.

By Jay Lokegaonkar

Saina Nehwal’s arrival on the scene was the wind of change which ushered in a new era for Indian badminton, believes her husband and fellow Indian shuttler Parupalli Kashyap.

With an Olympic bronze, three Commonwealth Games gold medals, two BWF World Championships medals as well as two Asian Games medals under her belt, Saina Nehwal is arguably one of the most decorated shuttlers to have come out of India.

But for Parupalli Kashyap, his better half’s true impact was making the nation believe.

“Saina has always been a huge motivating factor. Her achievements, her results, initially changed the mindset of all the badminton players at that point in time.

“She is the one who started it. Performing consistently at the international level. Beating the Chinese players, which was in the impossible zone at that time,” the world no. 24 in men’s badminton said during an Instagram Live with India table tennis player Mudit Dani

Saina Nehwal is also the only Indian woman shuttler to have reached the pinnacle of the BWF rankings and remains one of just two Indian badminton players to win a medal at the Summer Olympics, alongside PV Sindhu.

Saina Nehwal’s Olympic glory

Saina Nehwal’s bronze at London 2012 was, in fact, India’s first medal in badminton on the big stage.

With the hopes of a nation resting on her shoulders, Saina Nehwal headed into London 2012 as the number 4 seed.

She cruised through the group stage and registered another comfortable victory over Dutch shuttler Yao Jie in the round-of-16 to set up a quarter-final match-up against the then-two-time All England Open Badminton Championship winner, Tine Baun.

Up against her much-fancied opponent, Saina Nehwal produced a masterclass to win it in straight sets. The contest, Parupalli Kashyap believes, remains one of the most underrated triumphs in Saina Nehwal’s career.

“People forget about this and just talk about the bronze medal match, but you should see whom she has beaten. That Danish girl (Baun) was as good as anyone in the tournament and she could have easily upset Li Xuerui and won gold.

“Six months down the line, Baun won the All England Championship and retired immediately after that,” he reasoned. “So, it was a huge win.”

Mixed emotions on the moment of glory

Despite her best efforts, Saina Nehwal went down fighting against top-seed Wang Yihan in the semi-final, setting up a bronze medal clash against China’s Wang Xin.

In the tie, Saina Nehwal dropped a back-and-forth first game 18-21. However, just a point into the second, Wang Xin suffered a knee injury that prematurely ended the contest, handing Saina Nehwal a spot on the podium.

Parupalli Kashyap noted that Saina Nehwal had mixed emotions about the manner of the victory but was nevertheless proud of her achievement.

“It was huge. Her podium ceremony was very emotional,” he recalled. “Her feelings after the bronze medal match and the way it ended was of confusion but at the same time, she made it and she won the medal.”

Post the victory, India has seen massive growth in badminton on the world stage. Today, the nation boasts of eight men’s players in the top 50 and six women in the top 100.