Saina Nehwal has caught the imagination of the masses, classes, and the media of cricket-crazy India. Her phenomenal rise to superstardom over the past year is a result of meticulous planning, methodical training, and great spirit. Her gold-winning match in the Commonwealth Games capped India's finest show in the multi-discipline event. The brilliant fightback in the final, cheered on by an unprecedented audience, not only enhanced her stock; it raised the profile of badminton across the country. On that day, the nation discovered a young, inspiring performer in a sport so familiar to its growing middle-class. The title helped overcome the disappointment of her unexpected quarterfinal-defeat in the Asian Games last month. The golden week in Hong Kong helped Saina settle a few scores: she avenged the loss in the Asian Games to Hong Kong's Yip Pui Yin and went on to get the measure of Wang Shixian, the Chinese woman who won the Asiad gold, and also handed out the Indian star her worst defeat of the year in the World championship quarterfinals in Paris in August 2010. Strangely, on her way to taking five major titles, including three in the prestigious Super Series this year, Saina was not required to beat a single higher-ranked player.

The year 2010, which witnessed Saina's rise to the second spot in world rankings before slipping a few rungs, has established her as a serious contender for the country's first-ever Olympic or World championship medal in badminton. Although the 20-year-old needs to improve her head-to-head record against the leading Chinese player, her growing self-belief indicates that she is ready to realise her ambition of being the world's best. Saina is now showing on court the world-beating qualities that Prakash Padukone revealed in the 1981 World Cup final against Han Jian. She and her coach, Gopi Chand, know only too well that in the coming year, they will have to contend with a better-prepared Chinese brigade. But Saina has a way of dealing with challenges. For example, what she lacks in on-court movements, she makes up with finely honed skills at the net. She has improved her stamina and speed but is modest enough to acknowledge that a lot of work needs to be done. Overcoming the odds comes naturally to Saina; she recently revealed that her grandmother was disappointed at her birth because she desired a grandson. Today the Hissar-born, Hyderabad-based young woman is inspiring thousands of girls across the country to chase their dreams.

Keywords: Saina Nehwal

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