ALL ENGLAND

Success-hungry India puts pressure on Nehwal

Indian star Saina Nehwal admits that the pressure gets to her as she continues the difficult road to the Olympic Games via the All-England Open championships.

Success-hungry India puts pressure on Nehwal
Andrew Boyers REUTERS

Carrying the weight of expectations of the second most populous nation on earth has sometimes brought "silly mistakes", Nehwal says, requiring her to pay extra attention to her mental fitness as well as the repeated physical fitness issues which have bothered her.

Nehwal also admits that finishing runner-up in both the World and All-England championships without winning either is something she "feels sad about" -- despite the fact that she is the first Indian woman to get that far and that last year she became the first Indian woman ever to become world number one.

"I've been carrying expectations for many years, but at the same time I know every match counts because so many people are following me. I just have to be more focused and keep working hard," she said.

"I don't want to think about these things because sometimes it plays a major role and I then make stupid mistakes and lose a match. Then I realise I could've played much better so I just try to relax and not think about it too much. I try to just go with the flow."

As if that were not enough, Nehwal has had to cope with chronic heel problems, caused by the shape and size of her feet and the constant pressure on them as well as an Achilles tendon injury which caused her to play in one tournament with a brace.

A winter training break, designed also to help prepare for the last lap of the Olympic qualifying period, seems to have enabled her to recover from these injuries and she also claims to have "changed as a person" since working with coach Vimal Kumar.

He has helped her relieve some of the pressure, some of which is caused by criticisms that are cruel and unfair, and some which stems from inevitable limitations of the body.

"I've come back after injury -- it's been almost two and a half months since I've played a tournament, so in that way I am happy," Nehwal said.

"The injury I had was very serious -- Achilles tendonitis. It's quite painful but I've come out of it and am now strengthening very well. It's a very difficult injury; I've faced a lot, it is not easy."

Although Nehwal became the first Indian badminton player to win an Olympic medal at the Games in London in 2012 -- she earned a bronze -- she knows the bar will be placed ever higher in 2016 for a success-hungry nation.

She is also acutely conscious that it is no longer just "Saina versus China" as it was until a year or so ago, when a new, younger and more successful rival emerged.

That is Carolina Marin, the 22-year-old Spaniard who holds both the World and All-England titles and could become favourite for the women's singles gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.

But the 25-year-old from Hyderabad has started 2016 feeling little different. "It's looking better but it's not easy," she said.

"There is lots of expectation and pressure because in India nobody has achieved as much as me and people want me to do well but I always give my best when I play tournaments," Nehwal concluded.

"If I'm solid then I'm confident I can do really well."