Saina Nehwal (born 17 March 1990) is an Indian professional badminton singles player. A former world no. 1, she has won over 24 international titles, which includes eleven Superseries titles. Although she reached the world’s 2nd in the 2009, it was only in 2015 that she was able to attain the world no. 1 ranking, thereby becoming the only female player from India and overall the second Indian player – after Prakash Padukone – to achieve this feat. She has represented India three times in the Olympics, winning a bronze medal in her second appearance.
Nehwal has achieved several milestones in badminton for India. She is the only Indian to have won at least one medal in every BWF major individual event, namely the Olympics, the BWF World Championships, and the BWF World Junior Championships. She is the first Indian badminton player to have won an Olympic medal, the first Indian to have reached the final of the BWF World Championships, along with being the only Indian to have won the BWF World Junior Championships or. In 2006, Nehwal became the first Indian female and the youngest Asian to win a 4-star tournament. She also has the distinction of being the first Indian to win a Super Series title. In the 2014 Uber Cup, she captained the Indian team and remained undefeated, helping India to win bronze medal. It was India’s first medal in any BWF major team event. Nehwal became the first Indian to win two singles gold medals (2010 and 2018) in Commonwealth Games.
Considered one of the most successful Indian sportspersons, she is credited for increasing the popularity of badminton in India. In 2016, the Government of India (GoI) conferred the Padma Bhushan – India’s third highest civilian award – on her. Previously, the nation’s top two sporting honours, namely the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and the Arjuna Award, were also conferred on her by the Government of India. Nehwal is a philanthropist and was ranked 18th on the list of most charitable athletes.
Saina Nehwal, the daughter of Harvir Singh Nehwal and Usha Rani Nehwal, was born in Hisar. She has only one sibling, an elder sister named Chandranshu Nehwal. Her father, who has a PhD in agricultural science, worked at Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University. She completed her first few years of schooling at Campus School CCS HAU, Hisar. She finished 12th grade from the St. Ann’s College for Women, Hyderabad.
When her father was promoted and transferred from Haryana to Hyderabad, she took up badminton at the age of eight to express herself as she did not know the local language well enough to socialise with other kids. Her parents played badminton for a number of years. Her mother, Usha Rani, was a state level badminton player in Haryana. Nehwal took up badminton to fulfill her mother’s dream of becoming a national level badminton player, while her sister played volleyball. Her father, who was among the top players in the university circuit, used his provident fund to invest in good badminton training for her. Nehwal also has a brown belt in karate.
She married fellow badminton player, Parupalli Kashyap in a private ceremony on 14 December 2018.
Few months after she entered the International Badminton Circuit, a 17 year old Nehwal participated at the World Championships where she lost to Jiang Yanjiao of China. In 2006, Nehwal became the under-19 national champion and created history by winning the “Asian Satellite Badminton tournament” (India Chapter) twice, becoming the first player to do so. In May 2006, at age 16, she became the first Indian woman and the youngest player from Asia to win a 4-star tournament – the Philippines Open. Entering the tournament as the 86th seed, she went on to stun several top seeded players including the then world number two Xu Huaiwen before defeating Julia Wong Pei Xian of Malaysia for the title. The same year Nehwal reached the final of 2006 BWF World Junior Championships where she lost a hard-fought match against top seed Chinese Wang Yihan. She also competed at the 2006 Doha Asian Games.
In 2007 At a very young age of 17, Nehwal went on to take part at the All England, where she challenged experienced Wang Chen in the Round 2, but went down in 3 games 21–17, 13–21, 16–21. She represented India at the Sudirman Cup in Scotland in 2007. At the 2007 BWF World Championships, she won her opening matches against Jeanine Cicognini of Switzerland and 13th seed Juliane Schenk of Germany, but lost the next round to French Pi Hongyan with score 13–21, 17–21. She was the finalist at the Indian International challenge in 2007 where she lost to Kanako Yonekura in 2 games.
Two years after losing the final to Wang Yihan, she became first Indian to win World Junior Badminton Championships by defeating ninth seeded Japanese Sayaka Sato 21–9, 21–18. She participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics where she was unseeded. She began her fight with a win against Russian Ella Diehl (2–0) in Round 1 & Ukrainian Larisa Griga (2–0) in 2nd round. She became the first Indian woman to reach the quarter finals when she upset reigning Asian Games champion no. four seed Wang Chen of Hong Kong in a three-game thriller. In the quarter-finals Nehwal lost a 3-gamer to world number 16 Maria Kristin Yulianti. Nehwal was leading 11–3 in the decider but couldn’t hold on against her opponent and lost the match with 28–26, 14–21, 15–21 scoreline.
In September 2008, she won the Chinese Taipei Open 2008 beating Lydia Cheah Li Ya of Malaysia 21–8, 21–19. She was also a semifinalist at the China Masters Superseries after she beat reigning World Champion Zhu Lin in quarterfinals. Nehwal was named “The Most Promising Player” by the Badminton World Federtion in 2008. She qualified for the season ending Superseries Finals which consists of most consistent players of the year. She defeated Pi Hongyan and Wong Mew Choo in early rounds. She lost to Tine Baun in Round 3. She entered semifinals but lost to Wang Chen with scores 21–15, 14–21, 16–21.
In June, she became the first Indian to win a BWF Super Series title, the most prominent badminton series of the world by winning the Indonesia Open. She beat Chinese Wang Lin in the final 12–21, 21–18, 21–9. Nehwal on winning the tournament said, “I had been longing to win a super series tournament since my quarter final appearance at the Olympics”. She is on a par with the likes of Prakash Padukone and her mentor Pullela Gopichand who both won the all England championships which are of similar status to the super series.
In August 2009, she reached to the quarterfinals of the World Championships, losing to the second seed Wang Lin. She qualified for the season ending Superseries Finals in December, where she lost the opening match to Wong Mew Choo (Eventual Champion) but won the next two group matches against Porntip Buranaprasertsuk & Canada’s Charmaine Reid. She again reached the semifinals of this tournament but went down, this time to Germany’s Juliane Schenk. She won India Grand Prix tournament later in the year, defeating compatriot Aditi Mutatkar in the final with scores 21–17, 21–13.
She became the first Indian woman to reach the semi finals of All England before losing to eventual champion Tine Rasmussen. Top seeded Nehwal reached the semifinals of Asian Championships, losing out to unseeded eventual champion Li Xuerui of China, settling for bronze medal. Her coach Pullela Gopichand advised her not exert too much pressure on herself due to the overwhelming home crowd support.
Nehwal won the 2010 India Open Grand Prix Gold, beating Wong Mew Choo of Malaysia in the final and thus justifying her billing as top seed in the tournament. Nehwal, again seeded no.1, won the Singapore Open Super Series 2010, by beating qualifier Tai Tzu-Ying of Chinese Taipei in the final of the Singapore Open 21–18, 21–15 having defeated World Champion Lu Lan earlier in the semifinal. Nehwal reached a career high of world no. 3 in the women’s singles badminton world rankings on 24 June 2010.
She defended her Indonesia Open title in three tough games against Sayaka Sato, 21–19, 13–21, 21–11. This was her third super series title and her third successive title following wins at Indian open & Singapore Super series. On 15 July 2010, with 64791.26 points, Nehwal reached a career high world ranking of No. 2 only behind Wang Yihan of China. 2nd seed Nehwal, a tournament favourite, crashed out of the 2010 BWF World Championships in Paris after losing to 4th ranked Chinese Wang Shixian in straight sets 8–21, 14–21.
Saina Nehwal at 2010 BWF World Championships
Saina Nehwal in action in 2010 Commonwealth Games, Delhi
As on 27 September 2010, Nehwal dropped to No. 7 ranking after giving a miss to 2010 China Masters Super Series and 2010 Japan Super Series due to her preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Top seed Nehwal won the gold medal in the Women’s Singles badminton event in the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi. after beating Wong Mew Choo of Malaysia 19–21, 23–21, 21–13. After her win Nehwal said, “when I was a match-point down, it was like a shock. It was a big match and winning it means a lot to me. Even many years from now, those present here will always remember how Saina won the gold. It is a proud feeling”. Nehwal confirmed her participation for the 2010 Hong Kong Super Series after a gap of more than five months since her win in the 2010 Indonesia Super Series in June 2010. On 12 December 2010, she defeated Wang Shixian 15–21, 21–16, 21–17 in the final of the 2010 Hong Kong Super Series to win her fourth career Super Series title.
2nd seeded Nehwal beat Sung Ji-hyun of South Korea 21–13, 21–14 to win the Swiss Open title. Nehwal faltered after a good start as she lost to the then world number three Wang Xin of China in the finals to finish runner-up in the 2011 Malaysian Open tournament. She was a part of Indian Team in the 2011 BWF Double Star Sudirman Cup mixed team who managed to reach the quarterfinals of this elite mixed team event for the first time ever, as India managed to beat Thailand 3–2, even when Nehwal lost her tie against Ratchanok Intanon. In the quarterfinals against China, Nehwal put up her best performance and beat the then world number two Wang Xin with 21–15, 21–11, but still the Chinese managed to move into the semi finals with a 3–1 win over India.
In attempt to record a third straight win at the Indonesian Open, she reached the finals once more where she lost to Wang Yihan of China to finish as runner-up, on 26 June. Nehwal crashed out of the 2011 World Championship as she lost 15–21, 10–21 to Wang Xin. Nehwal, who reached the quarterfinals in the last two editions of the event, had to be content with yet another last-eight finish. During the season ending tournament 2011 BWF Super Series Masters Finals in Liuzhou in December, Nehwal won her all group matches against Bae Yeon-ju, Sayaka Sato and Wang Xin and once again reached the semifinals. She created history by becoming the first Indian singles player to reach the final after defeating World No. 5 Tine Baun of Denmark scoring 21–17, 21–18 win. She lost the final 21–18, 13–21, 13–21 against the World No. 1 Wang Yihan in a contest lasting over an hour.
Nehwal successfully defended her Swiss Open Title by defeating Wang Shixian 21–19, 21–16 on 18 March 2012, a day after she turned 22 years old. On 10 June 2012, she defeated Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon 19–21, 21–15, 21–10, to lift the Thailand Open title. On 17 June 2012, Nehwal won the 3rd consecutive Indonesia Open by defeating Li Xuerui, a player who was on 30 match winning streak with most dominant performance in the season so far with scores 13–21, 22–20, 21–19.
At the London Olympics, Nehwal was seeded 4th in the Draw. In the Group stage she defeated Swiss Sabrina Jaquet (2–0) & Belgian Lianne Tan both in straight games. She reached the knockout phase where she defeated Dutch Yao Jie with scores 21–14, 21–16. She then faced Tine Baun, the no. 5 seed whom she defeated with 21–15, 22–20 scoreline. She afterwards advanced to semifinals where she lost to top seed Wang Yihan in two straight games 13–21, 13–21. On 4 August 2012, she won the bronze medal when Wang Xin retired from the match after an injury at 18–21, 0–1.
On 21 October 2012, she won the Denmark Open after defeating Germany’s Juliane Schenk. Nehwal successfully entered the finals of French Open, but she lost against Minatsu Mitani in straight sets. She participated at the season ending Superseries Finals. In the group stage, she lost to Tine Baun (1–2), won against Juliane Schenk (2–0) & lost the 3rd match to Ratchanok Intanon (0–2). She reached the semifinals but lost a well contested match to Li Xuerui of 3 games, 20–22, 21–7, 13–21.
She reached the semifinal of All England also but was defeated by 3-time World Junior Champion Ratchanok Intanon. She has yet another quarterfinal finish at the World Championships, after going down to Korean Bae Yeon-ju with score 21–23, 9–21. She qualified for the season ending Superseries finals held at Kualalumpur where she lost to Minatsu Mitani and Li Xuerui, but won the last group match against Bae Yeon-ju in 3 games. However, she failed to progress to the semifinals.
On 26 January 2014 Nehwal defeated World Championship bronze medalist P.V. Sindhu 21–14, 21–17 to win the 2014 India Open Grand Prix Gold Tournament. In the final of 2014 Australian Super Series on 29 June 2014, Nehwal defeated Spain’s Carolina Marin 21–18, 21–11 to win the title. She withdrew from 2014 Commonwealth Games due to fitness Issue & injury problems she carried during Australian Open. She lost in the quarterfinals of World Championships again, this time to Li Xuerui. She was the quarter-finalist at the Asian Games as well, where she lost to Wang Yihan. She became the first Indian player to win the China Open by beating Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi 21–12, 22–20 in the final. She contested at the Superseries Finals and won all of her group matches against top seed Wang Shixian (2–0), Bae Yeon-ju (2–1) & Sung Ji-hyun (2–0). She reached the semifinals once more, but lost to eventual champion Tai Tzu-ying with scores 21–11, 13–21, 9–21.
Defending champion Nehwal won the Syed Modi International by defeating Carolina Marín in the final. She became the first Indian woman shuttler to reach the finals of the All England, but lost to Marín in the final. On 29 March 2015, Nehwal won her maiden women’s singles title at the India Open, by beating Ratchanok Intanon. This assured her of becoming World number 1 when the latest BWF rankings were released on 2 April. With this, she became the first Indian player to achieve this feat in Women’s category.
At the World Championship held in Jakarta, Nehwal was seeded 2nd. She defeated Cheung Ngan Yi & Sayaka Takahashi in early rounds & reached the quarterfinals where she faced Chinese Wang Yihan. She was able to beat her in 3 games 21–15, 19–21, 21–19; thus assured herself of first ever medal at the World Championships. She beat home hope Lindaweni Fanetri in semifinal & created history by becoming First Ever player from India to contest World badminton championship finals. She settled for the silver after going down to Carolina Marín in final.
Defending champion Nehwal fought hard before going down to Li Xuerui in the final of the China Open. She took part at the Season Ending Championships where she lost against Tai Tzu-ying & Nozomi Okuhara (Eventual winner) but won against Carolina Marín, a player she struggled to beat in the whole year, in one of the group matches. However she failed to reach the knockout phase.
Nehwal dealt with injuries in early 2016 but she eventually recovered. She reached the semifinals of the Badminton Asia Championships after defeating the third seed Wang Shixian but settled for bronze medal, after losing to Wang Yihan 16–21, 14–21. At the Australian Super Series, Nehwal went into the finals after beating Ratchanok Intanon in quarters & Wang Yihan in semifinals. She defeated China’s Sun Yu in the final by 11–21, 21–14, 21–19.
Making her third appearance at the Olympics, Nehwal, the fifth seed, won her opening match against the unseeded Lohaynny Vicente in straight games. However, she lost her second match against the world no. 61 from Ukraine Marija Ulitina by 18–21, 19–21, thereby making an exit at the group stage. Her coach cited the week-old knee injury for her below par performance.She was appointed as a member of IOC Athletes’ Commission in October. She was also chosen as an Integrity Ambassador in BWF’s Campaign – “I am Badminton” in December to promote clean and fair play in the sport.
Nehwal went on to win Malaysia Masters by defeating Pornpawee Chochuwong with score 22–20, 22–20. She couldn’t do well much of the year due to injury; she was still recovering. She was seeded 12th in the World Championship at Glasgow. She ousted Sabrina Jaquet in Round 1. She beat 2nd seed Sung Ji-hyun in Round of 16 and reached quarterfinals for 7th straight time. She had to dug deep into her reservoir to eke out a 21–19, 18–21, 21–15 win over world No. 31 Kirsty Gilmour of Scotland in the quarterfinal.However, she lost the semifinal to eventual winner Nozomi Okuhara of Japan, thus won the bronze medal. She then won the 82nd national badminton championship by beating P. V. Sindhu in the final.]
Nehwal reached the finals of the 2018 Indonesia Masters. En route to the finals she beat 3 seeded players Chen Yufei, P.V. Sindhu and Ratchanok Intanon. However she attained second best after losing the final to Tai Tzu-ying. She won her second gold in Commonwealth Games women’s singles after beating P. V. Sindhu in the final and eventually led the Indian team to another gold medal in the Mixed Team event.] She then clinched a bronze in the Asian Championships which was her third medal in the tournament altogether, as she went down fighting to the defending champion Tai Tzu Ying. At the 2018 World Championships, Nehwal was seeded 10th. She outgunned Turkish Aliye Demirbag & advanced to next round. She further ousted 4th seed Ratchanok Intanon and reached World Championships quarter-final for record 8th straight time. She lost tamely to Carolina Marín there, in an unexpectedly lop-sided clash.
Nehwal was unseeded at the 2018 Asian Games. She defeated Iran’s Sorayya Aghaei in round of 32 and Indonesia’s Fitriani in second round both in straight games. She then won the quarterfinal, after making a stunning comeback against 4th seeded Ratchanok Intanon, when she was 3–12 down in Game 1 but eventually won it in 2 games thus made it to the semifinals.] She made history by winning the first medal for India in Badminton after a long wait of 36 years. She lost to Tai Tzu Ying in the semifinal, winning a bronze medal. She achieved a rare feat by winning medals from the quintet of badminton tournaments – the Olympics, the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Championships and the Asian Games.
At 2018 Denmark Open, Nehwal was unseeded. She defeated Hongkonger Cheung Ngan Yi scoring 20–22, 21–17, 24–22 in her favour. She then defeated 2 tough Japanese opponents in successive rounds; beating Akane Yamaguchi & Nozomi Okuhara. After an easy win against Indonesia’s Gregoria Mariska Tunjung in semifinal, she met her arch-rival and the no.1 seed Tai Tzu-ying. In the past 16 meetings Tai had won 11 and Nehwal wanted to break that jinx but couldn’t managed and went down by 13–21, 21–13, 6–21. Nehwal went into the finals of Syed Modi Badminton Super 300 tournament but lost to Han Yue of China.
She won her first BWF Super 500 title, the Indonesia Masters, against Carolina Marín, after the latter retired from the court injured. Defending her national championship title in Guwahati, Assam, Nehwal refused to play her singles match citing poor playing surface, and went on to win the National Championship by defeating top seed P. V. Sindhu with 21–18, 21–15.This was her 4th National title. Her incredible consistent record at the World Championships came to an end after she lost to Mia Blichfeldt in pre-quarterfinal in 3 hard fought games 21–15, 25–27, 12–21.