Saina Nehwal
Saina Nehwal defeated Hsuan-Yu Wendy Chen in straight sets on Monday. Pictured: Indian badminton player Saina Nehwal in action during a India Open badminton match in New Delhi, on April 1, 2016.IANS

Seven shuttlers are going to represent India in the upcoming Rio Olympics, which is set to start from August 5. Among the India participants, Saina Nehwal is the brightest hope for a medal, but the former world number one needs to polish her skills, be consistent, and execute her plans to perfection to win a medal in Brazil.

Winning a gold medal is never going to be easy, with the number of top quality shuttlers like Carolina Marin, Li Xuerui, Ratchanok Intanon, Nozomi Okuhara among others keen to deliver in the quadrennial event. Add to it, the weight of the country on her shoulders, when it comes to representing the nation in the Olympics. It is agreed, Saina has been carrying the India flag for quite some time, but the Olympics, which comes once in four years, is a different matter altogether.

Saina Nehwal enjoyed considerable success last year, winning the Syed Modi International and Indian Open, both on home soil. The India star also reached the final of the prestigious All England Open and World Badminton Championship, finishing runners-up to Marin in both instances.

However, after the World Championships in August, Saina has not been in the best of health, with the Achilles tendons injury disturbing her preparations for the Olympics as well. Despite the injury, she carried on playing through pain in major tournaments like China Open and BWF World Super Series Finals, but Saina could not give her best. 

Saina missed a major part of early 2016, and did not feature in the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold as well. The former world number one made a comeback with the All England Open and the Swiss Open, where she did not look too comfortable, and failed to make a huge impact in the competition.

But, there were plenty of reasons for India badminton fans to cheer as one could, at least, see Saina back on the court. However, her comeback was not smooth. 

Saina looked decent, but was knocked out  by top players like Xuerui and Tai Tzu Ying in the India Open and Malaysia Open in April respectively. 

The India star, however, showed her class in the last two competitions in the badminton circuit, raising hopes of India fans for a better showing in the Rio Olympics. The Padma Bhusan recipient was sharper in the Indonesia Open, and looked comfortable as well. There was a sense of feeling that the India star was coming back to her best, but Marin stopped Saina in her tracks, defeating her in the quarterfinals of the Indonesia Open. Judging by her movement, she was looking as fit as a feedle. 

The world number five realised the importance of taking her game to the next level in the Australia Open in June, but the road ahead for her was not an easy one. After her comeback from injury, for the first time, Saina finally finally began to show why she is one of the most feared players in the world, playing some astounding badminton in the competition.

Not only was she gliding across the court, Saina opted for an aggressive approach, and defeated top-ranked players like Intanon, Wang Yihan and Sun Yu to lift the Australian Open.

Things could not have been perfect with around two months left for the Olympics. The Australia Open victory will give her immense confidence to shine in Rio Olympics, but the field is going to be tough, and she needs to maintain her fitness and consistency to bring home the gold medal.

When on song, Saina can defeat any top shuttler in the world. But the same can be said for Marin, Xuerui, Intanon, Sung Ji, Tai Tzu, who are all going to be serious contenders for the gold medal in Brazil.

With such top stars in the fray for the gold medal, the player, who plays consistent badminton for a fortnight or so, will walk away as the 2016 Rio Olympics gold medallist.