Saina Nehwal, age 22, is one of India's most well-known sports persons.
On June 17, she won the Indonesia Open Grand Prix Gold title in Jakarta, a victory that comes just months before she heads to London for the Olympics. This is her third Indonesia Open title.
She also became the first Indian to win the Thailand Open badminton title earlier this month. She won the Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold in March 2012.
Ms Nehwal lives in Hyderabad. Her father, Dr Harvir Singh, a scientist at the Directorate of Oilseeds Research, Hyderabad, is originally from Haryana. They moved to the Andhra Pradesh capital, when she was just five. Saina, however, was introduced to the sport by her parents, both of whom were former champions in Haryana. The right-handed shuttler was born in Dhindar (which is in Haryana's Hisar district) but her father's work took Saina to Hyderabad where she spent her formative years.
Not many know that she has a bronze belt in karate. She quit it and fell in absolute love with badminton at age of 8.
She was spotted by PSS Nani Prasad Rao, badminton coach of the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh, at the age of 8 and he convinced her father to allow her to pursue a career in badminton. And Mr Singh backed his daughter's dreams. "Rarely can a middle-class family think of spending half of the monthly income on an eight-year-old child's training without knowing if the gamble would pay off but I decided to go by the advice of PSS Nani Prasad Rao who saw immense potential in the girl," Mr Singh said.
Such was the intensity of her relationship with the sport that she was sponsored by Yonex, a sports equipment manufacturing company, at the age of 12.
Ms Nehwal first caught India's attention in 2006, when she became the first Indian to win the Philippines Open despite going into the tournament as the 84th seed. Many top-seeded players lay vanquished in her wake as she announced her arrival on the international scene.
In 2008, she became the first Indian woman to make it to the quarterfinal of the Olympics in the singles event. That was the 19th edition of the Games in Beijing.
She also made it to the World Super Series semi-final in December 2008.
She made history in 2009 when she won the Indonesian Open, becoming the first Indian to win a Super Series tournament. She repeated that feat in 2010. She also won a gold medal in the woman's singles event at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010, which helped India finish No. 2 in the medals tally.
She is being currently coached by Indonesian champion Atik Jauhari while All England Champion Pullela Gopichand is her mentor. She was previously coached by Dronacharya Award winner S M Arif.
Honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2009, Saina is part of India's Olympic Gold Quest.
Story first published:
June 18, 2012 14:32 IST