To be honest, for the next couple of years we may not have the same level of players as we have at the moment.
Chennai: It’s an Olympic year and it’s not easy being P.V. Sindhu. Carrying the hopes of a billion, Sindhu, who won a silver at the Rio Games in 2016, is expected to clinch the gold in Tokyo in a few months. Despite winning the world championship crown, Sindhu’s form fluctuated like a pendulum last season. National badminton coach Pullela Gopichand, however, says there’s no need to panic.
On the sidelines of the National Institute of Technology’s Global Alumni Meet here on Saturday, Gopichand spoke to this newspaper on what Sindhu needs to focus and the importance of a coach-player relationship. Excerpts:
With the Tokyo Olympics fast approaching, what should Sindhu focus on?
She’s doing well and there’s no need to press the panic button. However, there are areas in her game that need to be improved. Even though the results were up and down last year, she ended the season with a crucial win. If you look at her career graph over the last few years, she has lost a few close matches. In the later part of 2019, she struggled with the conditions. Along with a Korean coach (Park Tae-sang), we are currently working on those aspects. I am sure she will come back stronger this season.
While Sindhu (World No.6) and Saina Nehwal (No.11) continue to maintain their status among the elite in women’s singles, the next best Indian (Mughda Agrey) comes at 73. So, who is next after Saina and Sindhu?
To be honest, for the next couple of years we may not have the same level of players as we have at the moment. However, Saina and Sindhu, I believe, have it in them to remain among the world’s best for the next few years. We have a great bunch of young players who are in the age group of 14 to 17. I expect them to make it to the next level.
What does India need to become a dominant force in world badminton?
I think we have proved that it is possible to produce world-class players consistently. It is important that we have already set up a system that actually molds players from grassroots to the junior level then onto playing at the highest level. So, the system is very important. Over the years, badminton has grown tremendously in the country. Not long ago, Indian women were considered not physically strong. And look what the likes of Saina and Sindhu have achieved!
How important is it to have a healthy relationship between a coach and a player?
It is very critical. At the highest level, managing relationships is an important aspect. It requires a lot of trust, commitment and hard work which they put in together. A healthy relationship will reflect on the player’s development. As coaches, we are in this field to give back to the sport. What we need are respect and affection. If teachers get their due respect, the nation will grow.
On the challenges he faced while starting his journey as a coach after playing days:
The challenges I faced as a player was a lot different from the ones I am facing now. I used to approach a lot of sponsors for the academy, but all their responses were the same: ‘I don’t think badminton has the visibility for us to sponsor.’ Many people ignored me and stopped taking my calls. I would go to some function and could hear people say “here he comes to take the money.” The last-ditch attempt was the decision to mortgage the house that I built after winning the All England Championship. That’s how we built the academy.