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Man who won't rest

other Updated: Dec 18, 2010 23:57 IST
Anupma Tripathi
Anupma Tripathi
Hindustan Times
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The trademark beard turned grey long back and he grapples with health issues, but start a discussion on badminton and the youthful exuberance quickly returns. Syed Mohammad Arif can perhaps be described as a vital cog in the Hyderabad badminton factory - the Dronacharya Award winning coach having churned out generations of outstanding champions at all levels.

There is hardly any player - from former all-England champion Pullela Gopichand to his current ward Saina Nehwal - who has not been guided by the man, respectfully called "Arif Saab". Women's doubles champion Jwala Gutta still trains under him and former national champion Chetan Anand is another of his wards.

The 68-year-old coach still turns up promptly at the Lal Bahadur Indoor Stadium (LB Stadium) for early morning coaching sessions, although the former chief national coach retired from his government position in 2004. "I may have retired but no one can stop me from the one job I'm most passionate about," he says.

"I'm so happy to see the rise of badminton in the country. I was fortunate enough to be able to contribute to the ascent," says Arif. The conversation then turns to the hottest topic in the game - Saina.

"It was at the LB Stadium that I saw Saina participate in a summer camp. Jwala took off from this place at seven. Her coach Gopi cut his teeth under me. They had something special that gave them an edge over others," he fondly recollects.

"I saw the spark in Saina at the coaching camp here. She was just like Gopi. She would keep pushing to the limit. Even when others would relax, this girl would keep asking me if she was getting the strokes right. Gopi would also ask me if he could go for jump smashes at the age of 10, which I used to firmly refuse as it might have led to knee injury."

Times have changed. His pupil Gopi runs his own academy at Gachibowli that offers state-of-the-art facilities. The LB Stadium pales in comparison but the basic facilities have not deterred Arif's wards from turning up.

"Why I continue to train kids? It's because of my belief I still have the ability to instill those values and character one needs to become a champion," he says.

Arif hopes India one day make the big leap, over global powerhouse China.

"Inshallah, one day my dream will come true. Saina has showed China are no more the only powerhouse in badminton," he says.