Back in 1999, long before Saina Nehwal became a household name, a fellowship of Rs. 700 per month became the first earnings of a little girl who nurtured a growing love for the game of badminton. In a country where sports essentially meant cricket, Saina set out to change meanings and mindsets. Today, when Saina Nehwal has earned the World No. 1 spot in professional badminton, the humble beginnings are but a gentle reminder of how this challenging journey panned out.
Saina Nehwal was born on March 17, 1990 in Hisar, Haryana. Her parents were badminton champions in their native state, Haryana. Saina, however, grew up in Hyderabad. Her love and dedication towards badminton took her through several ups and downs. A girl suffering from stage-fright, as mentioned in her book ‘Playing to Win: My Life On and Off Court’, displayed nerves of steel as and when she played in front of crowds all across the world. There are several milestones which Saina Nehwal will reach before the curtain falls. But today, we take a look at some of the high points of her career so far.
Philippines Open (2006)
When a 16-year old Saina Nehwal won the Philippines Open in 2006, she became the first Indian woman to win a four-star badminton tournament. The unseeded Indian beat seventh seed and World No. 66 Pei Xian Julia Wong of Malaysia to announce her arrival on the international stage.
World Junior Championship (2008)
After defeating World No. 5 WANG Chen of Hong Kong in the pre-quarters of 2008 Beijing Olympics, Saina Nehwal became the first Indian to win the World Junior Championship title in 2008. She was top-seeded in the tournament.
Indonesia Open (2009)
Saina Nehwal had become a popular name by now. Things were going in the right direction for the young tennis star and the 2009 Indonesia Open victory was an icing on the cake. Saina became the first Indian to win a BWF Super Series title and was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award in the same year.
Indonesia Open (2010)
After winning the Indonesia Open title in 2009, Saina Nehwal displayed consistency and resilience by defending her title against Japanese shuttler Sayaka Sato in the 2010 final. She also reached a career high world ranking of No. 2 in the same year. Moreover, she also won the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award that year.
Commonwealth Games (2010)
Saina Nehwal won a closely fought final against World No. 19 Wong Mew Choo to clinch Gold in the Women’s Singles event at the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games. It was an intense encounter which saw Nehwal making a comeback after going down by one match point.
Swiss Open (2011)
After a sour start to the year, where she crashed out of the Korea Open Superseries and Yonex All England Open, Saina Nehwal answered critics by winning the Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold after pounding Korea’s Ji Hyun Sung in the final.
Indonesia Open (2012)
Saina Nehwal won the Indonesia Open Super Series title for the third time in 2012 after beating World No. 3 Li Xuerui of China in a closely fought final. She took on an undefeat Li to secure a third Indonesia Open title.
London Olympics (2012)
Saina Nehwal’s dedication and love for the game saw her make strides at the biggest stage in 2012. She became the first Indian badminton player to win a medal at the Olympics. A teary-eyed Saina, promised herself more such medals, while she stood at the podium holding the bronze medal.
Denmark Open (2012)
In October 2012, Saina Nehwal won her first European Super Series title by defeating Danish shuttler Tine Baun at the Denmark Open. Saina also defeated arch-rival Wang Yihan of China for the first time ever in this tournament only. This was young Saina’s sixth Super Series title.
Australian Open Super Series (2014)
In 2014, Saina Nehwal ended China’s domination in world badminton by winning the women’s singles Australian Open Super Series title. Out of the 8 Super Series titles held so far that year, this was the first one to be won by a non-Chinese shuttler. This was also Saina’s first major title in almost 20 months.
Indian Open Super Series and World No. 1 (2015)
Saina Nehwal reached the top of the badminton world in the year 2015. She justified her stay there by registering a dominating win, against Thai shuttler Ratchanok Intanon, in the final of the Indian Open Super Series title. The year 2015 saw Saina Nehwal become the first Indian woman shuttler to attain the number one spot in World rankings.