Continuing with our coverage of Indian sports, we are taking a step forward on our story of India’s badminton star and coach, Pullela Gopichand by bringing to you this interview conducted by Sports Rediscovered – a website dedicated to Indian sports and sports persons.
Pullela Gopichand is the chief Indian national team coach, who is hugely credited for the success of Indian badminton. At times though, he seems to be held responsible for everything wrong with Indian badminton as well – whether it is the need for Saina Nehwal to rediscover her form or the fact that officials have not done justice to our badminton doubles players – Gopichand has always faced questions.
Given our sporting culture, that is not an easy crown to bear. But Pullela Gopichand carries out his duties by being focussed on delivering the next set of champions. Here is an exclusive discussion with the man himself:
What is your assessment of the progress that Indian badminton has made?
Overall it has been good. The progress of Saina & Srikanth and Sindhu has been very good. The development of a second tier in Ajay Jayaram, Sai Praneeth and Prannoy is very heartening. However, there are areas of concern in terms of developing a second rung of women’s singles players and in improving our doubles.
You have mentioned about the need to develop coaches. In your view, what can be done for this?
There has to be a system-based approach with the people in Sports Authority of India (SAI), and the government too needs to get together with them. It has to be a combination of multiple factors like the right specialists and planning for the right kind of tournaments. The recent appointment of a Malaysian doubles coach is a step in the right direction.
Your autobiography mentions how your mother would always keep you on your toes, asking whether you played with your seniors; and while coaching she would ask if you spent time with the youngsters. What does she tell you now?
I think her key concern always is “who next?” The question is about looking for younger talent.
What is the criterion for selecting youngsters for your academy?
In the initial years, we picked whoever came up. I think we were lucky to have a great conversion ratio as 12-13 of those picked, like Saina, Sindhu, Sikki Reddy, Kashyap, Sai and Sumeeth Reddy, did very well. But other than the physical parameters, what I look for is the attitude and ability to win matches.
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Tell us a bit more about Sindhu. How do you rate her chances in the World Championships where she will be bidding for her third medal?
Sindhu always had the spirit and fire to do well. Kids have different ways of adjusting, but in her case, she always enjoys playing and working hard. She loves the atmosphere of the court and the challenges of the sport. I think she is still at 60% of her game. She still has a long way to go. However she does have the potential as could be seen in her three-game tough loss against Li Xuerui just after her comeback.
How difficult is it to manage injury and the subsequent recovery period for players like Sindhu?
It has been a challenge. Sindhu loves to work hard and she enjoys playing and I try to keep her focussed on the same. At 19, there are a lot of years ahead for her and while there is pressure due to past reputation, we have to ensure she enjoys her journey.
In your opinion what would it take to keep Kidambi Srikanth at the top?
The rise of Srikanth has been phenomenal. He is a young talent and there will be a need to revisit the foundation of his play. People will read his game and adapt to his play. They will be able to read his existing weapons and prepare specifically for them. It is now Srikanth’s turn to move to another strategy. At 21, he is young and has many years to go.
You were recently mentioning how Kashyap is playing well. What does he need to move to the next level?
Yes, Kashyap has had a good season. He needs to stay focused and should try to remain injury-free. He has big 3-4 years ahead and should be in line to win the big titles.
We also had news about your daughter doing well recently.
It is not just my daughter. There is a strong juniors’ group consisting of Vaishnavi (U-15 champion), Gayatri (U-13 champion and U-15 doubles winner) and Samiya (U-13 runner-up and U-13 doubles champion), who have been showing good results. We have a bunch of young talent and are seeing good results from them.