Chief national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand on Friday admitted that it was tough for him to manage two of his illustrious wards Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu together, saying he could never pick a favourite between the two.
“Even in my dream, I cannot say this is my favourite trainee that will be end of me. Over the year it’s been tough but I needed to manage. Each one’s journey is very different, each of the champions is very different,” Gopichand said at the TATA Steel Literary Meet.
“To celebrate that diversity is India. If you go to China, you won’t find the diversity. You will see one model fits all. But here each one is taken a different path and it’s a challenge to bring everyone walk a same path and get a medal.”
Gopichand said he always saw the duo as his kids and felt bitter when Saina left his academy to join Prakash Padukone’s academy. “I always felt these kids are my own as if I owned the students. I felt a sense of bitterness, anguish (when Saina left his academy). I was unhappy about it. Then when I saw her at the Olympics I thought she had a great chance and then I saw her lose,” he said.
“She came back and said I’m not finding my rhythm, no way I could say no to her. I told Sindhu: ‘Saina going to be back. But it doesn’t mean I’m out of your time. You both will have your time. How I manage is my problem. You just tell me what you need and it will be done’. It’s always been difficult to manage these players.
“I definitely felt very hurt. No disrespect to Prakash Sir. He’s a hero, a role model and felt something very dear to me taken away. I was in Copenhagen, she was in Hyderabad. I asked her to stay back for a day. She didn’t,” he added.
Concerned that the country has not invested beyond Saina and Sindhu, Gopichand said India need to put a system in place.
Beyond Sindhu and Saina, who are currently world ranked sixth and 18th respectively, there’s no one else from India inside top-50 and the next best women’s singles player from the country is Mugdha Agrey, placed a lowly 71st.
“If we look at what we have done, we have not invested in anyone beyond Saina and Sindhu. The next best players are really not taken care of,” Gopichand said. “I’ve spoken about the need for a system in our country. To depend on emotions and energy is not going to last long. We as a country need to figure a system.
“It’s very important that we start looking at it. Today thanks to the popularity of the game, the numbers have grown enormously and there’s a huge amount of talent. I do believe as time goes we will find many players come by. I don’t want to take any names for the risk of missing out any.”
Gopi also asserted that it is Sindhu’s duty to adapt to crammed calendar without complaining. He admitted that a crammed BWF itinerary was causing a problem but at the same time believes the onus is on a player of Sindhu’s calibre to adapt to the calendar instead of complaining about it.
Apart from the World Championships gold, Sindhu failed to win any other tournament last year. “I think the crammed schedule is a problem for the top players, but also to be fair, I think the whole world it’s been an issue. As a top player, it’s her (Sindhu) duty to adapt without complaining,” Gopichand told PTI on the sidelines of the book launch of ‘Dreams of A Billion’ co-authored by sports historian Boria Majumdar and journalist Nalin Mehta.
“So I think, yes, Sindhu is working on some of those mistakes, and hopefully we’ll be able to sort it out.
Gopichand exuded confidence that Sindhu will be able to turn it around in time ahead of the Olympics. “We have a team with Park (Tae-sang) as a coach, we have her trainer Srikanth and the physio working together. And hopefully, in the months to come and leading up to the Olympics we will have some good preparation,” he said.
“I think definitely, we need to work on a few aspects of the game and hopefully we’ll get there quickly.”
Gopichand is hopeful that Sindhu, the Rio Olympics silver medallist, will be able to win a medal at Tokyo, despite her dip in form. “I do believe that she has a bright chance. Having said that, I think whether it’s the Tai Tzu Ying or Carolina Marin, whether it’s the Japanese or the Thai girls, I think there is definitely good amount of competition. But I am saying who’s done well in the past, and I do believe that with some good preparation, she will do well.”
While Sindhu is assured of a ticket to Tokyo, time is running out for Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth to make the cut but Gopichand said the Indian duo can still qualify with some good performances in a couple of tournaments.
London Olympics bronze medallist Saina and Srikanth suffered opening round losses at the Thailand Masters and are currently placed at the 22nd and 26th spots respectively in the Race To Tokyo BWF Olympic Qualification ranking.
Each country is allowed two singles quota provided their ranking is inside top-16 within the cut-off date of April 28. “I think it’s about seven tournaments going into the the Olympic qualifications, I think they will need to perform really well to qualify for the Olympics,” Gopichand said.
“And they are at the moment of borderline, one or two good performances can clearly put them in a good space to qualify for the Olympics.”
Kim Ji Hyun played an important role in Sindhu’s rise as it was during her tenure that she claimed the World Championships gold. But the South Korean coach stepped down from her position in September last year for family reasons.
“We are looking for some people but we still haven’t found anybody. In an Olympic year with the coaches schedules, I don’t think it’s easy to find any,” Gopichand said.
“But we have Park (Tae-sang), so I am hopeful, we will be able to manage but having said that we are still looking for replacements.”
Doubles specialist coach Flandy Limpele had recently said that bad attitude of some players was affecting the growth of doubles in India.
Asked about his opinion, Gopichand said: “Flandy has expressed his views. And I don’t want to really go into the details of it.
“But I do believe that and I’ve said this often in the past that we as a country needs to put a system in place and especially when foreign coaches come and they also feel the need for a system in place which talks about nurturing players and development.”
Talking about the future of Indian badminton, Gopichand said the next batch is getting there but stressed on the need to invest in the young generation.
“Over the years, we’ve not really invested in our second generation. And it’s important that we start giving them good exposure and good coaches so that they kind of get to the next level.
“So for me, I think it’s very important that these players start to do well. And we have a lot of juniors in the ranks who could and given an opportunity. I’m sure they will come up,” he said.
“For the risk of missing out on few, I won’t want to name many, but a lot of them in the 15 to 18-19 category there’s a lot of talent both in the men and the women. So I’m sure that we can expect some good results in the coming years.”