Saina Nehwal has become the poster child of Indian badminton in the early half of this decade. She is the first Indian to win a Super Series tournament. She also became the first Indian to win a medal in badminton at the Olympics and she was just 22 then. Mint Indulge spoke to Nehwal about what keeps her motivated. Edited excerpts:

When did you first realize that you wanted to take up badminton professionally? What was the reaction of your parents?

For me, badminton is my love. And I was persuaded by my parents to follow it when I was quite young, say around eight years old. I have still not taken it as a profession, rather I take it as my duty and I enjoy it a lot. I have also been helped by the sacrifices that my family has made, the hard work of the coaches I worked with, the support of the financiers, love of the fellow countrymen and, of course, blessings of the almighty. But my parents are the producers of this badminton project. That is why I am here in badminton.

Also, I love badminton because it does not know the boundaries of caste, creed, religion and nationality.

What were the initial challenges that you had to face? Did you break any rules to reach where you are right now?

There were multiple challenges, right from finding a place to play, good coaches, building up strength, to looking out for financiers. Who sends their kids into sports these days, especially if it is not cricket? Everybody wants education. Sports is risky; one defeat and you are out of the tournament. But you have multiple chances in education. Society thinks that studies are far better than sports. So there were multiple challenges that I had to overcome.

You were born in Haryana, a state notorious for its skewed sex ratio. What do you want to say to the people of that state?

Haryana is one of the best states in India today. The sex ratio is improving. The rise of wrestlers, boxers, badminton players, shooters and hockey players, especially girls, in the state has been phenomenal. People have realized that girls are no less than boys in any aspect of life these days. Girls have put Haryana on the world map and I hope they continue the good work. And I am sure the state government will work to better the sex ratio.

From the time when the print media would often refer to you as “Sania" Nehwal to now when you are no longer in the shadow of any sportsperson, what lessons have you learnt along the way?

I think hard work pays. If you’re starting your career and you have a name that is similar to a celebrity, it also gives you an added advantage. She was an established player when I started and I might actually have been helped by her name in the past. Now that I too am doing some good work, people know me as Saina Nehwal and it feels good.

You were 22 when you became the first Indian to win a medal in badminton at the Olympics. You are also the first Indian to win a Super Series tournament. What keeps you motivated for more?

I am not into studies, so I don’t have many results to show. Sports is what I chose and I give it my 100%. It’s easier to win tournaments, but far more difficult to maintain stability in results. To keep on the winning habit. It requires a lot of hard work and guidance of coaches. All these factors keep me motivated to do best.

Is sponsorship a problem for badminton players in India?

It is a big problem for all sports barring a few. Sponsors are very scanty. They prefer cine celebrities also. Sportsperson who get sponsors’ attention are lucky and are few in number. But their support along with that of the government is essential in motivating more children to take up sports in India.

Do you think sports in India is gender biased?

No. It is almost 50:50. A little more attention will do wonders.

You are the poster child of Indian Badminton. Does that put huge pressure on you? Or actually motivate you?

I enjoy my carrier as a badminton girl. I enjoy the love that people have given me but that love comes with pressure. I stay away from other material comforts of life and work six-eight hours daily for the assigned job. My family helps me a lot in this. The attitude of coaches towards me has been very encouraging.

You also have a brown belt in karate. Any plans to pursue that further?

I believe in following one aspect in life. Never be the jack of all trades and master of none. Choose one thing that you are best at and work on it. Results will follow.

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