Lots of potential but need good coaches to harness it: Pullela Gopichand
PV Sindhu sent waves around the badminton world when she waltzed her way to a maiden World Championship gold medal last month. It was a historic achievement, one that no Indian had ever managed to do before, and yet the manner in which she brushed off her opponents in the last two matches -- one of whom was defending champion Nozomi Okuhara -- made it look like the gold always belonged to her.
Coach Pullela Gopichand, who was courtside when Sindhu was mauling Okuhara, believes that this win is not a one-off if India can nurture and harness the talent it currently has in the junior circuit.
Indian badminton players may not have had a great time in the first half of 2019, but the two medals that they won at the World Championships -- B Sai Praneeth’s bronze in men’s singles was somewhat overshadowed by the show Sindhu put up -- was a big positive for the sport in the country according to Gopichand.
“Sai’s performance was very special. Sindhu’s brilliant performance overshadowed it but for our men’s side to win a medal after so many years is something special. I think he has broken the barrier and hopefully this is a sign of things to come. With both Sindhu and Sai, not only is the performance special, but the manner in which they got the win is also something great,” Gopichand told IANS.
The 45-year-old former All England Championship winner said that for Sindhu, this gold could be a sign of things to come. She has lost in a number of tournament finals since her silver medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 but the fact remains that at the age of 24, Sindhu is an Olympic medallist, a world champion and the winner of the season-ending BWF World Tour finals.
“I always knew Sindhu would do something good very early. People who know me know that as early as 2010 or 2011 I had said that Sindhu has potential to be a top class athlete. I think she has done very well so far and I am very proud of the way she has performed so consistently over the last few years.
“The beauty is that she is only 24 and she has got many years left. Hopefully at the end of her career she will have many more championships to her credit.”
Gopichand had a direct hand in honing a number of his wards who are active in the international circuit such as Sindhu, Praneeth, Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy and so on. However, due to the exponential increase of students in his academy and in the junior circuit, Gopichand has not been able to spend as much times with the current crop of younger players.
“Nonetheless, when we look at the numbers in the junior circuit, the numbers and the talent is very encouraging. We need to nurture them properly, it’s a scenario that is very positive for Indian badminton with many players in both genders and many age groups who have the calibre to be top class athletes,” said the All England Championships winner.
It is perhaps for this reason that Gopichand has not shied away from pointing out the chasm in the Indian coaching system. He had in fact spoken about an “ecosystem issue” that has led to a “big vacuum in terms of producing coaches of quality” in a press conference with Sindhu immediately after their return to Hyderabad in August.
“It is very important that we improve the strength of our coaching staff. One of the good ways to do it is to ensure that our top athletes can come back to coaching. It doesn’t mean that all of them need to come, but if we convert even 10 percent of them, we will have done a good job. Coaching is not an easy profession. But players having played the highest level, who have an understanding and an aptitude for coaching should be brought into the system,” he said.
Gopichand also reckoned that players don’t necessarily need to be top class athletes to become coaches. “Everyone can be part of the story. They can coach at all levels whether it be grassroots, intermediate or elite,” he said.