Books - Non Fiction

Saina Nehwal: An Inspirational Biography (Book review)

“Saina comes from a middle-class family and has been groomed into a world-class player in the face of awesome odds”

Yes, you read that right. Even odds can be ‘awesome’! These words are printed behind the cover page of the book, ‘Saina Nehwal: An Inspirational biography’ written by TS Sudhir. What does it take to become the World No. 2 badminton player and penetrate the seemingly impenetrable Chinese badminton-fortress, is the topic that is predominantly discussed in this book. 

This book is meant to be Saina Nehwal’s biography, but the author has written quite exhaustively about other sports-persons like Gopi Chand, Sania Mirza, etc., as well.

At the age of 10, would you wake up at 4 AM and travel 25 KM on a scooter (to and fro) to the coaching academy? Would you do it before and after school? Well, that’s precisely what this young champion did.

No doubt, any sports-person needs to be regular with practice/exercise, put in a lot of efforts/hard-work, be dedicated/disciplined, etc. Most of them are, in fact. But what differentiates a champion from the also-ran?

“Yes, I will be happy to be the world number one. But my main aim is to win an Olympic gold and also the All-England. Plus win all the Super Series as well”

This was in reply to a question asked by the author (to Saina), and he is quick to add,

“I could not help wondering why every sports-person in India could not be as aggressively ambitious as Saina”

Attitude & Aggression. Loads of them. Of course, when embarking upon a difficult journey, most of us show plenty of attitude and positivity. But in face of repeated failure, can we sustain that attitude? Well, Saina Nehwal did and we all know the results. In fact, one of her coaches says that she was kept away from senior players because they were pessimistic about beating the Chinese and indulged in negative-talking frequently.

What about the ‘support’ from parents? Sample what happened, after a young Saina Nehwal lost a match –

“Her mother Usha Rani was standing beside the grill. The moment Saina crossed, Usha Rani slapped her. I rushed asking why and her reply was, ‘She didn’t play the game the way she should have. She just did not concentrate’ ”

Well, one cannot exactly become a champion by watching inspirational movies and reading inspirational books, can they? Saina was very fortunate (according to the author) to have parents who supported her (their?) dreams of becoming a world champion in badminton. Of course, her father was driving the scooter and her mother was sitting behind, while going on long drives to coaching sessions. In spite of being a middle class family, they somehow managed all the expenses (training, tours, etc.) until they were able to get sponsors.

“Statistics show that Indian sport loses three out of every four players in the years when they are between class X and XII. Most young players are compelled to choose studies over sport. Saina is among the few who haven’t”

Here once again, the role of parents in supporting the decision to play professionally, even though it requires dropping out of education, is pivotal. But then, for every Saina Nehwal, there are lakhs of unknown players who did not make it big. It’s a huge risk and parents know that. It’s either the gold mine or… well!

Even though this book is the author’s first, he has succeeded in sustaining the interest of the reader, throughout. Having a background in journalism helps, I guess. The author has taken a lot of pains to interview many people (parents, coaches, fellow-players, etc.) to come up with this (sort of) comprehensive work. Of course, that’s required when one is writing a pre-mature biography, I guess.

The order in which events are described might confuse a few, but  overall, it is well written. I did think that in a book titled as it is, the description of other athletes could have been minimized, a bit, but all that information maybe required to understand the context and the system better. The author also goes quite deep into the sports-system we have and suggests what could be done to make it better.

  • You can buy Saina Nehwal: An Inspirational Biography by T. S. Sudhir from Flipkart or in India. [Disclaimer: These are affiliate links. I may get a small commission if you click on them and buy the product. Your price will not change.]

Destination Infinity


  • Jeevan

    The attitude part was impressive. Her mother’s reaction was shocking, but this shows her involvement on daughter’s career more than herself. I hope the book help inspiring many other sports persons in India, and of course readers.

    • Rajesh K

      If Saina’s mother’s reaction was shocking, you probably don’t know what’s happening in China that is producing ‘world-class’ athletes in huge numbers. Saina’s success has already inspired many wannabe badminton champions across India and particularly AP. Let’s hope to get more world-champions in the near future.

      Destination Infinity

  • Nancy

    Mother’s reaction scares me but I guess she knows that her daughter can perform much better & her reaction echoed it.
    Always wondered abt Saina Nehwal… I guess the book will be a good read and plus can leave it around for one of the kids to find it ;-).

    • Rajesh K

      Yes, must read for sports-persons and also normal people. This book speaks about aiming, focusing and achieving excellence. Must for everyone.

      Destination Infinity

  • Avada Kedavra

    Parents’ support is probably the key to going in these paths. Her mother’s reaction was shocking indeed. Looks interesting but I am not at all interested in sports, so may not pick this book.

    • Rajesh K

      Yes, at that age parents support and encouragement in crucial. But then, parents know the best for their children.

      Destination Infinity

  • Sandhya Kumar

    She must have played because of her parents’ ambition and might have got into the groove. The parents and the player should be very disciplined and dedicated while bringing her up and pushing the girl to the brink. And she seems to be nearly consitent in winning.

    Thanks for the review. I admired her always. Yes, Gopichand was instrumental in her life for her winning so many matches.

    • Rajesh K

      In one of the rare cases, parent’s ambition and the pupil’s ambition is the same here! Though I didn’t mention much about Gopi’s contribution in her success in this review, that factor cannot be underestimated and it is dealt with in detail in the book.

      Destination Infinity

    • Rajesh K

      It’s early, but this book was released just before the Olympics. I guess they were expecting her to win an Olympic medal and immediately afterwards were expecting a surge in demand to know more about the athlete. Well, that’s what happened right?

      Destination Infinity

  • Nita

    I too found the mother’s reaction shocking and somehow find it difficult to see it as “support.” However I am sure that her parents did support her in many many ways otherwise she would not have reached where she is. I guess it is the overall demand for excellence which counts. They wanted her set her standards high.

    • Rajesh K

      In the Indian context, such things should not be very surprising to us. I mean, parents do beat kids if they don’t score good marks in exams and that’s considered as normal, right? So, why should this be abnormal?

      Destination Infinity

  • Pattu

    Her dreams and their as well. Otherwise , they could not have made those scooter rides at all weathers (cold esp), in Hyderabad, and also the bad roads. The facilities were not so conducive those days when she was young and learning. Hats off to them.

    • Rajesh K

      That’s true. Probably, parents gave the initial push and she took up to the sport (and the dreams) immediately afterwards. Whatever she has achieved is a great achievement, no doubt.

      Destination Infinity

  • Shilpa Garg

    Saina… admire her! Her mother’s ‘support’ is shocking. In fact, read somewhere that she is close to her father and her coach and not her mother! An autobiography at such a young age… amazing!

    • Rajesh K

      It’s a biography, written by their family friend T S Sudhir. I feel that generally, stick and carrot work very well together (alternatively). Someone needs to push, only then any kind of achievement is possible. In her case, perhaps it was her mother who did…

      Destination Infinity

  • Alka

    Read this one. The book tells us interesting things……both her parents were badminton players and that she loves ice cream. Saina is my favorite sportsperson right now.
    Engrossing review.

    • Rajesh K

      Saina Nehwal is the favorite sportsperson of many Indians, including me. She has achieved something beyond anyone’s imagination, in our country!!

      Destination Infinity

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