Hyderabad: Indian athletes are projected to win medals in a handful of disciplines at the London Olympics, but none is closer to the goal than iconic badminton star Saina Nehwal.
Saina spoke to IANS on her Olympic chances with measured equanimity.
"It is the highest level of the game and a dream for any sportsperson; I can only hope and try, cannot predict. Let's wait and see what London holds for me. My coach Gopi sir (Pullela Gopichand) and the team are doing their best to help me with my game and build confidence level," said the badminton star.
Four years ago when she played at the Beijing Olympics she was a teen - 18 - and she became the first Indian to enter the badminton quarterfinals at the Olympics. Now she is heading for London with confidence, experience and with several titles in the run-up to boot. She has emerged a clear threat to the badminton superpowers.
Those who have followed the Hyderabadi's badminton from close quarters insist the 22-year-old is India's best bet for a medal in London. Coach Syed Mohammed Arif, who has seen Saina's rise, is one who is willing to put his money on her to come back with a medal.
The expectations from Saina have risen after her splendid showing on the circuit in recent months. After bagging the Thailand Open and Indonesia Super Series titles last month, the world number four stood up to the domination of the Chinese girls and proved they can be beaten.
Saina has defeated all top players of the world except current No.1 Wang Yihan, one of the three Chinese who will be in action in the women's singles at the London Olympics.
"Let us see what happens. I will give my 100 percent in all of the matches," she said when asked if she is confident of beating Wang this time.
Saina believes all opponents are going to be tough as every player is working very hard for the prestigious competition.
Will she be under pressure of expectations?
"No, it all boils down to what happens on that particular day against an opponent. I believe in hard work and leave the rest to the Almighty. "
The Chinese are not the only ones she has to deal with. She has other difficult customers from other countries, too, on her way to the medal round.
As for the Chinese, she was beaten by four Chinese five times. Only Wang Yihan is a definite threat to her as she could not beat her even once in her five meetings. The other player who has harassed her is third-ranked Li Xuerui.
Should China prefer to field Asian champion and third-placed Li Xuerui ahead of the second ranked Wang Xin or fourth-placed Wang Shixian, it will add to Saina's worries.
Saina has an identical record against Li Xuerui and World No.2 Wang Xin, winning twice in six meetings. She has won thrice against fourth-ranked Wang Shixian in four encounters.
Has Saina and her coach worked out a strategy to tackle the Chinese. "It is all spontaneous and on that particular day how our strategy will work; we are concentrating on skills, stamina and my speed."
The Haryana-born champion is going through intensive practice sessions with four other Olympics-bound shuttlers at the Gopichand Badminton Academy. She said her preparations were "going in the right direction under the watchful eyes of my coach."
She is physically and mentally geared up for the challenge. "Yes, I am and looking forward to London."
On leading the Indian badminton challenge, Saina said: "It is indeed a matter of pride to represent my country in a second Olympics. I hope my other four friends will also be elated like me to be the part of Indian team."