The face of Indian badminton, Saina Nehwal, is one of the major contenders for a medal finish at the Rio Olympics. There is no doubt about the talent that the former world number one possesses, but to achieve the feat, not only does she need to play her best, Saina has to be on top of her fitness levels as well.
Fitness has been a major problem for Saina, who suffered an Achilles tendons injury in the recent past, which led to her skipping many major competitions. However, she made her comeback in the All England Open 2016 and the Swiss Open, where she did not look too comfortable, and failed to make a huge impact.
But a few months ahead of the Rio Olympics, there was a spring in her stride as she played some amazing badminton at the Malaysia Open. Her best performance was witnessed during the Australian Open Super series, which she won in June. It was the last major tournament before the event in Brazil. Saina needs to build on this win, and carry her form in Rio.
"That victory boosted my morale. I had missed major tournaments from December 2015 to February 2016 because of injuries. But the rehabilitation phase made me a much stronger player. That was a nice feeling," the Times of India quoted Saina as saying.
Her rankings also slipped because she had to miss competitions due to injuries. Saina is currently ranked number five in the world.
"I see injuries as a bad phase in a sportsperson's life. On the contrary, it makes you weak and several things happen as a result. Your ranking goes down and those players who were on par with you go up. It is the support from the coach that helps you recover and make you stronger."
Saina is aware that she can defeat any top shuttler when fully fit. The Indian shuttler is raring to go in Rio. The Australian Open champion will want to better her last Olympics record, where she returned home with a bronze medal.
As with any other athlete travelling to Rio, Saina will also want to win gold in Brazil, but for that she needs to excel at the court against some of the top shuttlers, including Carolina Marin, Li Xuerui and Ratchanok Intanon.
"It is not simple; it is extremely tough. All the top badminton players of the world are competing in Rio so to pinpoint a single player as a challenge is difficult," Saina said.