Saina Nehwal: From a prodigy to overcoming the Chinese, to become the first Indian World No. 1
On April 2, 2015, Saina Nehwal scripted history and lifted the spirit of Badminton in India after achieving the World no. 1 rank. Notably, she was the first Indian woman to achieve the top rank and overall, the second after Prakash Padukone. So far, she is the only Indian woman to pull off the top spot.
She started playing badminton at the age of eight and entered the senior circuit at the age of 17 in 2006. She achieved her maiden title when she triumphed at the Philippines Open the same year despite being an unseeded player (86th seed). With this win, she became the first Indian to win a 4-star tournament.
After ending as a runner up at the 2006 Junior World Championships, Saina came back with a win at the 2008 World Junior Badminton Championships, becoming the first Indian to date to win the title. She defeated ninth-seeded Japanese player, Sayaka Sato 21-9, 21-18.
Before that, she became the first-ever Indian woman to qualify for the quarterfinals in an Olympics event. Also, she was the first Indian who qualified for the season-ending Super series finals in the same year and also the first to enter the semi-finals.
In 2009, she won the Indonesia Open and thereby became the first Indian to win a BWF Super series title.
From then on, she posed a serious challenge to the domination of Chinese players. This phase was predominantly known as Saina vs China. She went on to win five super series from 2009 to 2012.
In 2010, ranked no.3 in the World, she also became the first Indian to win a Gold at the Commonwealth Games.
Saina won a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics- again the first Indian badminton athlete to do so.
From winning the Australian Open in 2014, there was no stopping for Saina as she won 4 titles till the same event in 2016. By then, she was considered one of the strongest players in the International Circuit.
After winning the Indian Open in 2015, Saina’s career peaked up the mountain as she became the new and first Indian World no.1 player.
In the same year, she became the first Indian to reach the finals of the All England and World Championship. Since then she has never made it to finals again.
Saina lost in the group stage at the 2016 Rio Olympics and faced a severe knee injury after the event.
The fighter made a comeback by winning the Malaysia Masters in 2017. She fought her way to win a bronze at the World Championships after losing in the semi-final. In 2018, she won her second Commonwealth gold after defeating PV Sindhu in the finals. She also won bronze at the Asian Games and Asian Championships, becoming the first Indian woman to win a medal at the Asian Games.
2019-2020- Olympic Qualification?
In 2019, she won her first BWF Super 500 title, the Indonesia Masters after Carolina Marin retired the finals due to an injury. However, the rest of the year was defined by poor performances and her ranking declined to 20th with 46607 points, her lowest in the decade.
After the BWF has frozen the rankings, Saina can yet qualify for her third appearance at the Olympics by climbing up the ranking ladder by 4 spots in the remaining tournaments to come.
No woman has stayed No. 1 more than 10 weeks since 2010 other than Saina. She is also one of the two players aged 30 and above to be under the top 50 of the BWF rankings. Over her career, she has won a total of 20 titles which has been exceeded by Wang Yihan (27), Tai Tzu Ying (25) and Li Xuerui (24).
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