Saina Nehwal on her approach to return to top form

The London 2012 bronze medallist is not targeting tournament wins but rather on staying fit so she can play to her potential

By Sanjeev Palar
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Things haven't been easy lately for Saina Nehwal.

The badminton star from India has not reached a final since the 2019 Indonesia Masters.

Nehwal is currently outside of the top 16 in the Race To Tokyo rankings that will ensure her a chance to compete at her fourth Olympic Games but the 31-year-old is not known to give up easily.

On the contrary.

Nehwal is seen as a trailblazer in her country.

Last week the biopic "Saina " was released in India, a film about her journey to the top.

She would like to get back to top form and has shared with Olympic Channel how she intends to do that.

It's all about fitness

Nehwal became the first badminton player from India to medal at the Olympics when she won bronze at London 2012. She has a long list of firsts as a player from her country which includes reaching the finals of the world championship, where she won silver in 2015.

The three-time Olympian who reached the quarter-finals on her debut at Beijing 2008, was aiming to better her 2012 bronze in Rio but instead suffered a shock exit during the group stage.

It was only upon her return from Brazil that she fully understood the cause of her performance and she revealed to us what the doctor's discovered upon performing an MRI on her problematic knee.

"What they found in the MRI was that there was a small bone which broke off actually in the knee. And I was quite shocked, how can the bone just break like that?" - Saina Nehwal to Olympic Channel

For the first time in her career, Nehwal underwent surgery to rectify the situation.

Upon her return to the court, she managed to reach the semi-finals of the 2017 world championships, losing in the last four to eventual champion Okuhara Nozomi.

Other injury issues continued to surface from time to time which saw her performance become slightly erratic However, when she was fit, she could play to her potential and managed a bronze at the 2018 Asian Games and gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

However success on the World Tour circuit eluded her until she reached the final of the 2019 Indonesia Masters. Facing off against Carolina Marin, Nehwal was trailing in the opening game when the three-time world champion retired having torn her ACL. Nehwal was awarded the title and it remains the last time she has made a tour final to-date.

2018 Commonwealth Games gold medalist Saina Nehwal (C), silver medalist P.V. Sindhu (L) and bronze medalist Kirsty Gilmour (R)
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

When the pandemic brought the 2020 season to a halt, Nehwal drew the positives from the national lockdown and used it as an opportunity to break her strenuous routine as an elite athlete.

She admitted she was happy to have the luxury of time to relax, something that she had not been able to do for the past 19 years of her career. She was also able to use the time to reflect on how to come back as a better player.

"The pandemic has really helped me to think and get back into the shape" - Saina Nehwal to Olympic Channel

"I got some time to think about how we can improve my body, my injuries, and how we can come back stronger on the international circuit," she added.

It has been a difficult start to the year for Nehwal.

But the experienced player has a clear idea of her approach.

"I'm not looking or keeping a target of winning this tournament or that tournament. I just want to improve. And if I'm fit enough, I'm definitely sure I can give back very good results in the tournament."