Rio Olympics 2016 is the toughest event for me, says Saina Nehwal

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Bengaluru, July 7: The pressure of competing in Olympics, the biggest spectacle in sports, is different. And India's number one badminton player - Saina Nehwal knows it.

Saina wins Australian Open

Having already claimed a bronze medal in London Games 2012, world number 5 Saina has commenced preparations for her third Olympics, this time in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro, next month (August 5 to 21).

Saina Nehwal (right) hands over her autographed badminton raquet to Hyundai India MD and CEO YK Koo in Bengaluru. Photos by Suhas A

The 26-year-old Hyderabadi, without hesitation admitted on Thursday (July 7) that Olympics will be the toughest competition but she wants to play in Rio de Janeiro Games as if she is participating in a Super Series event. But she knows people will remind her all the time it is not any other normal tournament.

After being honoured by Hyundai Motors India Limited (HMIL) with the 1st anniversay edition of Creta SUV, Saina spoke to the media, revealing her plans for Olympics.

Here are the excerpts from Saina's interaction with the media in Bengaluru

Question: Could you tell us about your preparations for Rio Olympics?

Saina Nehwal: There are still four weeks (to go). The badminton event will only start on 11th or 12th of August. So there is still lot of time. Can't say anything at the moment. But I am preparing hard. Everyone has one aim of getting a medal. And we have so many players going from India for badminton (7 players). Last time we got 6 medals (overall). Hope this time we get more. It's not easy at all. Olympics is lot of expectations, lots of pressure. It's huge but I just hope all players are well prepared and come out with good results.

Q: In the build up to Australian Open, did you look at improving your ranking?

Saina: No. It was not about the ranking. It was about how I come back from an injury, how to defeat the players whom I will be facing everytime. I never thought about Olympics, rankings or anything. It was just about how I win against players who have been troubling me. Just wanted to get that confidence and the winning momentum which I lost in November in the final of the China Open and after that because of the severe injury, I could not come back that strongly. I was losing in semi-finals or quarter-finals.

I am happy that I got that break. But I never expected it in the Australian Open. I was working hard. I didn't even have a lot of time to prepare. Just 1 or 2 weeks. I almost played 9 to 10 events in the last 3 months. Lot of tournaments, lot of events. It was a hectic schedule. But happy that I could pull out one win. Let us see. Olympics is another event. A big event. Everyone will be preparing very hard. Very tough competition because there will be lot of expectations. Lot of pressure. Hopefully I play well.

Q: This wil be your third Olympics and how will you deal with expectations?

Saina: It's not easy. When I started playing, I didn't even think I would play one Olympics. It's a lot of hard work. I wanted to do well for my country. I never thought that I was going to this event or that event. It was more about wherever I play, I win and get good results for my country. And Olympics is something which we can't explain in words. It's not easy to describe how you feel when you get a medal. How you feel when you win those difficult matches. It's like a dream. Not easy to explain.

Saina speaks at Hyundai event

Q: For you, as a player, what is the difference between 2012 (London Games) and 2016 (Rio Olympics) and the growth from then to now?

Saina: The changes were in that I became World No. 1. I won the World Championship silver medal. I beat a couple of top players whom I had never defeated before. Like Wang Yihan, Carolina (Marin) in recent past, Ratchanok (Intanon). There is one girl who is still a mystery for me - Tai Tzu Ying. I hope I solve that puzzle as well. It's not going to be easy. She is a very technical player. She won the Chinese Taipei event recently. And when I saw her match against Wang Shixian, she had improved a lot. It's not going to be easy. I would say any player. But she is one of the strong contenders.

Q: There is a bigger contingent from India this time for Olympics? Your thoughts on that?

Saina: I am happy that sports is growing. That's why we have so many participating. And all of us have the capability to perform well. More than that it's important to stay focused. Believe in themselves. But I am really happy that in badminton we are 7 of us (for Rio Games). It has improved so much from last time that 7 are going. All of us have been performing well from last 2 to 3 years. So I am sure that we have a lot of chances in getting medals in almost every event. About the other sportspersons I would just say all the best and we have the capability to do well.

Q: Is winning Australian Open title a morale booster for Olympics?

Saina: There is no connection at all. It is a win. I didn't plan it. I just got it. And there is a lot of time between the Australian open and the Olympics.  A win is always a big boost. I have defeated many top players there. So the next time I play them, there will be an advantage. But it is not easy. The game might turn any time, any moment. It is not easy to tackle these top players.

In fact, if you see, Ratchanok (Intanon) won 3 Super Series in a row in the beginning of the season, then Wang (Yihan) won the Asian Badminton Championship, also Li Xuerui won the German Open, so all these players are going to play. So you can't say one person is consistently performing. All these players are consistently performing and coming out with new strokes and techniques all the time. So it is difficult at this moment to say it easy for me to play well against them again. It will be a new tournament (Olympics) and hopefully I can do well there.

Saina is seated with her mother Usha Nehwal at Hyundai's event

Q: Your thoughts on the field beyond the Chinese shuttlers?

Saina: At the moment, I can't say they are not beatable, but the other countries are stronger now. Currently badminton is very big in Asia, but we don't have global presence like in the case of tennis. So, for badminton to grow it won't be easy unless we have people coming from various countries across the world. It is improving now. I still fell players from countries like the US and Australia should come forward. The other countries which are expected to do well are doing well.

Q: How different is it to play in Olympics?

Saina: Just forget Olympics, just take it as Rio Super Series. So, don't compare Olympics to the Australian Open. Take it as another tournament. It is a different tournament all together and we have a lot of time in between to prepare and get to a higher level.

Anything can happen during the 7 weeks between Australian Open and the Olympics. The Australian win was unbelievable because after my match against Carolina (Marin) in Indonesia, I suffered a hamstring pull and could not play for the next 3 days. It was a very bad pain. Yet I started in the first round and went on to win the tournament. Sometimes things happen which you do not expect.

I did not go there thinking I'm going to win. I just thought I should play well against each of my opponents in every round. I didn't think who the player is. But at the back of my mind I thought I wasn't that fit and didn't have the time to train. I didn't have the big win I was waiting for and it happened in this tournament. For Rio, there is time for a lot of things, for preparation, for strategy and I can prepare well because I will get the draw 3 weeks ahead.

At the Olympics, it is all about how free we are while playing. Even if you want to forget it is the Olympics, people around you will keep coming and reminding you that it is the Olympics. So you have to just forget about it. It is the toughest tournament and it happens once in 4 years. So, playing the World number 200 will also be very tough for me. There is no round in the Olympics which will be easy. Not only for me but for any player.

Q: Is coach Vimal Kumar travelling with you to Rio de Janeiro?

Saina: Yes he is traveling with me. More than the strategy it is about how well I prepare for the match and what practice I get there.

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