“Somewhere deep in my heart, maybe it is the end of my career.” These were the shocking words of the beaten-down Saina Nehwal, the former World No. 1 badminton star, who limped her way to loss in 2016 Rio Olympics due to knee injury. While many people, including the media, wrote her off, her fans and fellow athletes held on to the hope of her glorious comeback.
The badminton star eventually proved her haters wrong by storming back into the BWF top 10 in world rankings in 2018, with her signature smashes and attacking game still being intact. From being at her peak form in 2015, to the 2016 low to a new rise, the newly-wed Saina has had an incredible journey in the sport as well as her fitness levels. Let’s look at her remarkable recovery story.
The fitness struggle after 2016
Saina first caught the nation’s fancy when she became the first Indian shuttler to win the Philippines Open in 2006. And the pro player never looked back since then and also went on to become the first Indian shuttler to win an Olympic medal in 2012. However, as she was growing older, fitness became a major concern and her ranking started slipping.
The Hyderabadi developed a knee injury early August 2016 and it got worsened during the Rio Olympics the same year where she was knocked out of the first round itself. She had sustained an intra-articular injury (inside the joint) in her right knee and a small fragment of bone had got separated from her patella (knee cap bone).
Saina was forced to undergo a surgery at a Mumbai hospital, but without wasting any time, she soon began her rehabilitation process with physiotherapist Heath Matthews and training under her coach U. Vimal Kumar.
How Saina rediscovered her fitness and badminton form
Saina had resolved to embark upon her second innings and consulted the famous sports physio Chris Pedra who completely changed the badminton ace’s fitness routine. Specific exercises that revolved around the game like jumping, balance and change of direction were introduced in her regime.
The work out sessions’ main focus was on strengthening the legs and forearms as they do the major work in badminton.
Saina also strictly did lateral pull-downs to improve the coordination between her body parts intense rowing for toning and strengthening her arms. Her gym sessions included military presses that worked on her arms and upper body muscles, which help in increasing the stamina of holding the racket in long matches.
The sports star also made it a point to take up basic exercises like crunches to help her agility and activeness on the court.
Saina’s rigorous diet routine
Saina feels that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and never skips it. She has always followed a healthy diet all throughout her career. In the morning, she eats eggs to stay energised during the day and stays away from junk and oily food.
When it comes to lunch and dinner, she prefers boiled or steamed food and salads as it cuts down the consumption of avoidable fats.
Nehwal finishes her meals before 7:30 in the evening. So, even during her healing days, this meticulous regimen ensured her body got the required nutrition and remained toned and strong for the exertions of the court.
The sweet fruit of her hard work is there for all to see. In the year 2018, she went on to reach three finals: Indonesia Masters, Commonwealth Games and Denmark Open. Currently, Saina is the oldest player in the top 10 category and holding her own heroically against the new wave of young stars like Tali Tzu Ying, PV Sindhu and Ratchanok Intanon.
On January 27, 2019, the badminton supremo won the Indonesian Masters in Jakarta after Carolina Marin sustained to injury during the final match and created history by becoming the first Indian woman to win the title.
Thanks to her tremendous journey that is an inspiration for everyone, a biopic on Saina is underway, which will star actress Shraddha Kapoor in the lead role and is directed by Amol Gupte.
We just can’t wait to see the celebrated shuttler’s life unfold on the big screen. Can you?