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Saina Nehwal: Paris Olympic qualification tough but retirement is not on mind

Saina Nehwal is aware that qualifying for the Paris Olympics will be “tough” for her but the injury-ravaged Indian shuttler has no plans to quit badminton and would do everything under the sun to resurrect her career.

Laid low by a spate of injuries, including a recurring knee issue, and other health problems, the 33-year-old from Hyderabad has found it tough to stay fit to consistently turn up at the BWF World Tour events.

Her ranking has plummeted to number 55 in the world.

“I get inflammation in my knee whenever I train for an hour or two. I am not able to bend my knee so a second session of training is not possible. The doctors have given me a couple of injection. Of course the Olympics is near and it is tough (to qualify),” Saina told reporters.

“But I am trying my level best to comeback. The physios are helping me but if the inflammation doesn’t reduce, it will take little more time to recover. I also don’t want to play half-heartedly and results will also not come.

“If you are trying to compete against An Seyoung, or Tai Tzu Ying or Akane (Yamaguchi), it won’t happen with just one hour of training. The level has improved so much. So when you are playing such high level players, you need a high level game,” Saina, who was named the ‘Race Ambassador’ for Harvest Gold Global Race on September 24 in Gurugram, said.

The former world number 1 last played at the Singapore Open in June this year.

It was her sixth tournament of the season. She managed just one quarterfinal finish in 14 events in 2022, while a semifinal finish at Orleans Masters was her best performance in 8 events in 2021.

“If you are thinking about the knee showing inflammation after a training, then in tournament also if it shows up after one round, then it will be a negative sign.

“I am trying to sort out that first. Playing is easy, to maintain the body, to not have any niggles is what is important. Hopefully with the guidance of physios and Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, let’s see how I recover and comeback. It all depends on practice.”

No deadline for retirement

The two-time world championship medallist Saina last won a title in January 2019 at the Malaysia Masters.

While knee has been a recurring issue, she also had problems with groin and ankle, besides being diagnosed with acute gastroenteritis with mild pancreatitis in the past.

Asked about retirement, Saina said: “Woh toh sab ko karna parta hai (everyone has to retire someday)…there is no deadline. Everyone is going to stop when you feel the body is not supporting you.”

“But at the moment I am trying. As a sportsperson, it is my duty to try because I love the game and I have been playing for so many years.

“But if it doesn’t happen, then it means, how much I have tried. I have done everything, I mean I shouldn’t have any regret. My target is not to play Asian Games or Olympics because I have achieved a lot in those tournament and of course it could have been better if I would have been able to play, but let’s see how it goes.”

Also read | Sindhu trains at PPBA academy for a week to regain form, Vimal says she needs to make technical changes

Saina backs Sindhu on week-long training stint in PPBA

Saina, who trained under former India coach Vimal Kumar in 2015-16, backed fellow shuttler PV Sindhu’s decision to train for a week at the Prakash Padukone academy in Bangalore to regain her form.

“Change in coaches will help if you feel something is not working under some coach or change of atmosphere also helps. You need to try it out. I tried it and I could reach world no 1, reach world championships final.

“After playing 8 quarterfinals, somewhere mind stops thinking if I can ever cross quarterfinal stage. But I could do it after some change. It is required for a player.

“And why not? It is your career. After all, it is you who will sit and think what I have achieved in my career, so changes are always good if it is helping.” Saina reckons that world championships bronze medallist HS Prannoy has a chance to return with a medal from Hangzhou, China.

“All are doing well, especially Prannoy is giving back-to-back good results. Let’s see there are some tough challenges. But I feel Prannoy is good and Sindhu has always done well in big tournaments,” she said.

The London Olympics bronze medallist feels the young brigade in women’s singles is lacking the all-round game required to succeed at world stage.

“Badminton is one of the toughest sports in the world physically. You need to be 100 per cent fit throughout the year to play 17 to 20 tournaments in a year. Sindhu and me were gifted, we were natural retrievers on the court and we had an attacking game as well.

“But other players as far as I am watching the matches, they lack a few things. It is not easy to play at the highest level unless you have an all-round game. We are lacking somewhere here and there.”

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