Hyderabad:Saina Nehwal is a precocious talent, but even she never thought that she could be face to face with her dream so soon in her fledgling international career.
Come August and the 18-year-old badminton player from Hyderabad will be in Beijing playing for the country at the Olympics.
Winning a medal playing in her first Olympics might be too much to expect from her, but anyone who has followed her game in the last two years would not hesitate to wager on her as a dark horse. Her amazing run-up to the Games will only tempt the punter to put his money on her.
At 18, she is well aware of the expectations and the accompanying pressure, but Saina does not appear in any sort of stress even though her life at this point of time revolves around her game and national coach Pullela Gopichand.
Saina has been undergoing extensive training at the Gachibowli Stadium here and nothing seem to escape Gopichand's keen eye and analytical mind. The former All England champion is quietly shaping up her talent.
"I will take Olympics as any other tournament. I have grown up dreaming of an Olympics medal and I can only feel the enormity of the situation when I get on to the court in Beijing. I will try my best not to take any pressure and play freely," Saina told IANS after a rigorous work-out.
"World's top players will be there and it will be a big occasion for me. It will not be easy for me to win a medal, but I will give my best shot. This is just my second year of my international career and I am really happy that I will be part of the Indian contingent in Beijing.
"It is also a big occasion for my family. I know that because my parents were club level players and to see their daughter in Olympics is a big thing. But my parents do not talk about it for fear of putting pressure on me," she added.
The fact that she cracked the top-20 of singles rankings this month has given her the belief that she could fight it out and has the ability to do so.
Her performance in the Singapore Open, where she became the first Indian women to reach the semi-final of a Super Series event, and quarter-final appearance in Thailand Open, placed her at World No 18.
"I am happy that I am peaking at the right time for Olympics. The results in the last two tournaments have been a big confidence booster. I played well against seeded players and it has given me the belief that I can take on the big ones."
"I gave a tough fight to Chinese top-seed Xie Xingfang. I was running neck and neck but at 16-all I made mistakes and that took the game away from me. I will have to hold my nerve at such critical moments."
When girls of her age might be freaking out, Saina is happy to have nothing but badminton on her mind.
Her day starts at 5 a.m and she reaches the stadium by 6 a.m for training with Gopichand. She leaves at 10.30 a.m and after some rest is back on the court at 3.30 p.m for the evening session.
"I am following this regimen for quite some time now. I hardly get time to do anything else. Once in a while, I go out to see a movie for relaxation. I am not missing out anything in life because at the moment my focus is only on badminton," Saina said.
She is a second-year commerce student at St. Ann's College, but hardly gets time to open her books.
"I hardly get time to go to my college. But the teachers and principal are very supportive and they give me the freedom to take my exams whenever I am prepared," she said.
Gopichand said if not in this Olymics, Saina is certainly destined for bigger things in a couple of years.
"She has the potential to win an Olympics medal. She has just started her career. She will play in at least two more Olympics. Give her some time and she has the talent to bring a medal. Last three months she has shown tremendous improvement."
"It depends on individuals as to how they soak the pressure in big events like Olympics. There will be ten other top-ranked girls playing more or less at the same level and much will depend on how well she plays on that particular day," Gopichand said.