|Saina Nehwal with the bronze medal she won at the 2012 London Games
Calcutta: Saina Nehwal, the only Indian to win an Olympic medal in badminton, spoke to The Telegraph from her Hyderabad residence (Serene County, Gachibowli) on Tuesday.
The following are excerpts
Q Just how much has life changed in the past 10 days?
A Wouldn’t say it has changed too much, but I’ve got so many bouquets, that I could open a flower boutique! So many people have called to congratulate, with some even wanting me to coach their children. But I’m only 22 and, right now, busy with my own career.
For the first few days after returning home, you slept a lot. Did London tire you so much?
Well, I did sleep quite a bit, but also caught up on personal work... Replied to emails, read messages... Except for training, I’d hardly done anything in the two months leading up to the Olympics.
Have you stepped out of the house?
(Laughs) No, I’ve been busy giving interviews! I suppose I’ll go out later in the week, maybe go to a mall. I hope it won’t get chaotic, but it should be an interesting experience.
Having become an Olympic medal winner, one assumes you’ll be under more pressure...
I must thank God for giving me the mental strength to handle pressure... I’m used to playing under pressure, so I don’t expect the medal to make things difficult for me... My job will always be to do my best, that won’t change.
There’s no secret then?
No. Staying relaxed comes quite naturally to me and I’ve learnt from the Roger Federers and Sachin Tendulkars. Champions such as Federer and Sachin have that something extra, they don’t have to make an effort to stay calm and composed... On the court, I don’t get scared, nor do I panic.
[Besides Federer and Sachin, Saina’s favourites outside badminton are Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and the lovely Maria Sharapova.]
What’s your approach?
I play to win.
Are you very religious?
I do pray before a match and before going off to sleep, but it’s not that I’ve got to visit a particular temple every week.
Of course, I believe in destiny... I also know that luck matters.
To talk of your bronze... You showed no emotion in the first couple of minutes after Xin Wang conceded the match. Why?
Because of the circumstances... I’d been prepared for three games and I’d been confident of making a comeback. My rhythm was there, which gave me the confidence that I’d make it, despite trailing... It (emerging the winner) happened all of a sudden. I felt bad for Xin.
When it did sink in, what came to your mind first?
I thought of what my father (Harvir Singh Nehwal) had said before I left for London... He’d asked me to return with a medal and I was wanting to come back with the gold... I managed a different colour, but I’d still got a medal... Because I’d been so upset at losing in the semi-final (to Wang Yihan), I hadn’t spoken to him before my match against Xin.
Isn’t beating Yihan, the world No.1, a priority for you?
I’m looking to improve... Hopefully, that day isn’t far off.
You celebrated the bronze with pasta and pizza. Are you that fond of them?
I quite like pasta, not so much the pizzas... My favourite, though, is the aloo paratha. In fact, any Indian khana will do. After shifting to Hyderabad (in 1998, from Hissar), I’ve become quite fond of dosas too... I like Thai as well.
How much of the credit for your achievement should go to coach Pullela Gopichand?
A lot... Gopi Sir has been coaching me for eight years and, right through, his aim has been to make me a better player... Today, I’m also grateful to the coaches I worked with before Gopi Sir... I’m grateful to my training partners as well.
Should success only be measured by medals and rankings?
In India, unless you’re a cricketer, you won’t be noticed till you’ve either won a medal or have become a top-ranked player. That’s the way it is... Having said that, I’m very happy at the coverage I and the other medal-winners have been getting.
Have you had a role model in badminton?
Taufik Hidayat. He makes badminton look so easy, when no sport really is. He’s very supportive and has gone on record to say I’m the one who can challenge the Chinese in the women’s game.
A role model outside sport?
My mother, Usha.
When is your next tournament?
The China Masters Super Series from September 11 (in Changzhou)... After that will be the Super Series in Japan (in Tokyo), from September 18. Soon, it will become hectic all over again.
It’s unusual to turn down endorsements, yet you’ve done just that...
That’s because becoming an Olympic medallist was my only aim, the driving force... The Olympics come once every four years, after all. Now, I’ll do some endorsements, for I’ve got to look at the times when I won’t be a professional sportswoman. Money is important, but I don’t play for it.
Are you conscious that you’re a role model for a generation of girls in India?
(Laughs) Not conscious, but I know that a lot of youngsters look up to me. Does make me feel good.
The final one... What’s your take on the magnificent M.C. Mary Kom?
Mary’s great... A five-time world champion, an Olympic medallist, the mother of twins... Amazing, isn’t she?