The scene at Modern-PDMBA badminton complex rivalled that of an international cricket match. The stands were packed with people whistling and waving inflatables. Outside the complex,a long queue of people waited to enter the venue. Every inch around the badminton court was filled with people straining to catch a glimpse of Saina Nehwal. As the badminton star acknowledged the mass of people,the roar turned deafening. A majority of the crowd comprised children.
Nehwal,who was to be felicitated by a construction company,also gave a glimpse of her talent by playing an exhibition match. Nehwal’s every toss and occasional smash was accompanied by roars of approval. The mixed doubles exhibition match had Nehwal teaming up with T Nagendra against Neha Pandit and P Gopinath.
Once the match ended with Nehwal and her partner winning comfortably,she talked about her memories of playing in Pune when she was 13 and the journey since. “All the memories of the time that I played an U-13 tournament in Pune came flooding back when I was warming up. Pune is one of my favourite cities and I am glad that I got the chance to come to the city,” she said.
Nehwal then proceeded to talk about her Olympic journey,speaking about how hard it was to pick herself up after her semi-final loss and the importance of the bronze medal that she won in London. “It was the best feeling ever. Since the day I picked up a badminton racquet,I have always dreamt of winning an Olympic medal,” said Nehwal,”The emotions and the importance of that moment were just incredible. All my hard work has paid off.”
“I haven’t won a world event till now but an Olympic medal is the pinnacle of success for any athlete. My focus is on winning the All England and the World Championship but winning a couple more Olympic medals are definitely on the top of my list,” said the world number four.
For a large number of the children who attended the event,getting Nehwal’s autograph may have topped their list of short-term ambitions. The organisers had promised that she would sign autographs and pose for the camera after the event but because of the sheer volume of people at the complex Nehwal could not meet all her fans.