World No 10,and Indian badmintons poster girl Saina Nehwal was in Pune turning out for BPCL in the inter-unit tournament. Between chatting with fellow players,sitting and joking with academy mates,cheering for coach P Gopichand as he played his once-a-year doubles match and carrying platefuls of sandwiches for buddies to dig in to,the 18-year-old spoke to our correspondent about the year ahead. Excerpts:
Whats your immediate target?
The All Englands a very big tournament for me. Ive played Chen Wang there and taken her to three games,but I want to improve my showing there this year. Ive always enjoyed that tournament and can never forget the way they announce each players name. Since my first visit there,Ive found that rush of blood when they call out my name – its like winning a tournament.
How important are breaks between tournaments?
The last few months have been really hectic,and I can feel the fatigue right now. I get two weeks before the All England,which should be good,and a month before the World Championship. Preparation is very important to my success. I cant go into a tournament unsure of my physical preparedness.
How do you look back at last year,and what does the next one mean to you?
Its been a dream run – the second half of 2008. I now need that one big win – a tournament title ahead of the World Championship in August,and I want it badly. Ive said Im looking at Top-5 by the end of this year,and I stick to that. But the focus will be on reaching semis and finals and winning them.
Whats on the to-do list as you try going from 10 to 5?
Fitness. If Im fit,I can achieve anything. So I have to make sure of that,stay away from injuries,and plan my schedule. But whats happening against the top players is that their experience counts. Im still young,and they are way older and mentally more mature than me. The last three-four points,especially in three-games,I have to play those patiently. Sometimes,I get too impatient. I learnt it the hard way at the Olympics. That quarter-final loss hurts.
How do you plan your targets?
I dont plan future targets. Its the one thing I hate. Nothing sticks to scripts. I leave the training and tournament schedules to Gopi sir. All I can do is work hard in training and be prepared for everything. I love working hard.
What,in your opinion,does India expect from Saina Nehwal?
I think people look forward to watching me win,first and foremost. They want to know the intricacies of my game as well now. But compared to last year,when I started badly,this year the expectations will be higher. It will be tougher since the climb is steeper. But theyll see a better Saina playing,with improved strokes,fewer weaknesses and in good physical shape.
Whats your life like beyond badminton?
Theres no life beyond badminton. Im focused on what I want. I want to become World No 1 and till that happens theres no time for anything else. Its training,playing,resting,then training,playing and resting.