The former World No. 1 hasn’t looked at her best in recent times.

When it comes to strengthening India’s place in badminton, Saina Nehwal has always had her name in the conversation. The aggressive shuttler, who is a native of Haryana, has brought a lot of glory to her country. She became the first Indian badminton player to win a medal at the Olympics, when she won the bronze at the 2012 event in London. Nehwal has won 24 international titles. She also became the first Indian woman and second overall, to become No. 1 in the BWF World Rankings.

However, since the last few years, the smashing maestro hasn’t been able to play at her best. It often seems that her game is gradually fading with time. She failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. She also had a pretty ordinary display at the India Open, exiting from the second round of the tournament. Nehwal has also fallen to a lowly No. 27 in the BWF World Rankings.

So, is the former No. 1 nearing the twilight of her career?

Unexpected injury at the Rio Olympics

Saina Nehwal has had hard-fought battles which has resulted in numerous injuries. However, since 2016, it has been nothing less than a roller-coaster ride for the former ace.

She performed superlatively well in 2015, winning silver at the All England Open and World Championships. In the same year, she became the World No. 1. Infact, Saina was also one of the biggest medal hopefuls at the Rio Olympics in 2016. This was before something came as a bolt from the blue for her. Just after beginning her campaign at the quadrennial tournament, she suffered a shin injury and had to withdraw suddenly. Right after this, the ride began to get bumpy for her.

Promising comebacks in 2017 & 2018

Saina Nehwal couldn’t play for most of the time after the Olympics due to her shin injury. But, giving up easily wasn’t like her. At the 2017 World Championships, she won the bronze medal.

This was followed by her Asian Games silver and Commonwealth Games gold in 2018. This was the time when Saina began to peak again, but the tale of injuries once again started to haunt the ace shuttler.

Gradual decline after 2019

As 2020 was supposed to be the qualification period for the Olympics, it was time for the London Olympics bronze medalist to change the colour of her medal. After starting the year really well with a gold at the Indonesian Masters in 2019, her movement began to stifle and she was outplayed by lower-ranked players very easily.

Saina Nehwal started to face a number of injuries due to which she had to stay away from the international circuit, for brief but important periods of time. This was followed by her continuous early round exits, which stole the momentum from her game.

Tokyo Olympics & India Open debacle

Saina Nehwal
Saina Nehwal lost her match against Malvika Bansod in the second round of the India Open 2022 (Courtesy: India Open)

Due to the fact that Saina Nehwal couldn’t find a way in a lot of tournaments with valuable ranking points, she had difficulty in qualifying for the Olympics. As the BWF calendar was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the much-needed tournaments couldn’t be conducted. This led to Saina missing out on her second consecutive Olympics.

Even after Tokyo 2020, she didn’t show any signs of improvement. The other players who were of the same age as her were able to perform at their best.

At the very recent Thomas and Uber Cup, where she was the senior-most player in the Indian contingent, she retired from the clash due to injury and couldn’t match the pace of her opponent.

Infact at the India Open 2021, where there were hardly any higher-ranked players, she lost to her young compatriot Malvika Bansod in an unexpected way. She was expected to be at the top of the podium in the tournament, but exited as early as the second round.

Is there still a ray of hope?

Saina Nehwal, who is 31-years-old at the moment, has plenty of time left before she finally decides to hang her racket. She has to find ways to progress injury-free, if she wants to be among the best once again.

She will definitely be eyeing an appearance at the Paris Olympics, which are likely to happen three years from now. Nehwal has already stunned world badminton a number of times with her epic and unexpected comebacks. After having been through a career threatening injury, the former World No.1 will have to do something miraculous to attain the same spot as before.

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