Destination Dubai: Saina Nehwal’s bid to return to the top

The Olympic bronze medalist and world No. 8 talks to Vision Sport about her frustrations at missing the 2016 Dubai Superseries Finals and what it would mean to compete in the emirate this year

Women’s world No. 8 Saina Nehwal is determined to put last year’s injury woes firmly behind her as the Indian shuttler’s comeback continues at the YONEX Sunrise India Open this week.

The 27-year-old enjoyed a promising start to 2016 – including a Superseries title at the Australian Open in June – before disaster struck at the most inopportune moment.

Aiming to better the historic bronze medal she won at the 2012 London Olympics Games, a struggling Nehwal crashed out of the group stages of the Rio 2016 badminton tournament.

It was soon revealed that she was suffering from a bone spur on her knee, effectively ruling her out of contention for December’s season-ending BWF World Superseries Finals in Dubai.

“I’d never had surgery in my career before, and I began thinking whether I’d ever be able to come back, and how long it would take me to recover,” Nehwal reveals.

“A lot of doubts were swimming around in my mind. It was a very sad moment when I realised the severity of the injury. Mentally, I wasn’t prepared for it at all.

“I was crying in front of my parents and my coaches, thinking about just how tough it would be for me to deal with the surgery.

“But they reassured me that everything would be OK, that I would get back to being my best again.”

Despite the disappointment of missing out on the Dubai Superseries Finals in December, Nehwal has happily made a successful return to the women’s circuit for the 2017 campaign.

And after a laudable run to the quarter-finals of the YONEX All England Open earlier in the month – the first of 12 regular season Superseries events before the Finals return to Dubai at the end of the year – the Hyderabad resident now turns her attention towards the YONEX Sunrise India Open, her home event that she has won twice previously, in 2010 and 2015.

A strong performance in New Delhi will give Nehwal the belief that she can make up for her absence from last season’s Superseries Finals by qualifying for Dubai as one of the top eight-ranked players this time round.

And the Indian shuttler has made no secret of her desire to return to Dubai, having taken a strong liking to the emirate over the years.

“Dubai feels like home. I feel like I’m actually in India when I’m there,” she explains.

“It’s such an amazing feeling to be among all my fellow countrymen. They all support me like crazy.

“Dubai is a beautiful city; everyone knows that.”

As for the standard of badminton in the city, Nehwal is encouraged by the number of programmes put in place that are geared towards boosting participation levels.

However, she is keen to see it become even more popular in Dubai now that major events such as the World Superseries Finals have piqued the interest of the locals in the sport.

“I would say the situation is still improving in Dubai,” she says.

“To get the sport to the highest level in the city, there is still work to do. Having said that, Shuttle Time Dubai is doing an excellent job by organising so many competitions for the young kids and teaching them how to play the sport.

“But we still require a lot more coaches, physiotherapists and trainers to help these kids achieve their dreams.”

One thing’s for sure – if Nehwal can build on her early-season performances after last year’s injury setback and seal a place at the 2017 Dubai Superseries Finals, she can expect a rousing reception in the emirate.