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Siyadath: Indian badminton’s man for all seasons

Siyadath, 35, joined Gopichand in the mid-2000s, was there at the start of the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA) and has been India assistant coach since 2010.

other sports Updated: Apr 20, 2019 10:33 IST
Sandip Sikdar
Sandip Sikdar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Siyadath,Gopichand,Pullela Gopichand
Mohammed Siyadath Ullah with Pullela Gopichand

Pullela Gopichand is credited with the rise of Indian badminton and rightly so. Ever since he started his academy in 2008, India’s profile in the sport has grown exponentially. But behind such consistent shuttle service, there is one person who has more than lent a hand to Gopichand. Step forward, Mohammed Siyadath Ullah.

Siyadath, 35, joined Gopichand in the mid-2000s, was there at the start of the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA) and has been India assistant coach since 2010.

From a small village in Mahbubnagar district, 100 km from Hyderabad, Siyadath and his brother Mohammed Inayatullah shifted to the Telangana capital, then Andhra Pradesh, to pursue badminton. The brothers got the hang of the sport from their father who played for fun. Though Inayatullah stopped after school, Siyadath continued until a shoulder injury halted him at 19.

“I couldn’t afford surgery and thought the pain will reduce on its own. We had no physio facilities then,” he said.

Injury, opportunity

It was then that the thought of coaching crossed his mind. During that time shuttlers from Andhra Pradesh did not win domestic tournaments, something that is said to have irked Gopichand. The 2001 All England champion trained a group of players for a few months when he was out of the circuit (2003-04) with an injury. The results followed immediately.

Also Read: Former Olympian Nikhil Kanetkar poised to mould champion shuttlers from Pune

“Saina (Nehwal) alone used to win but (Parupalli) Kashyap, RMV Gurusaidutt only used to reach quarter-finals. Then Gopi ‘Bhaiyya’ decided to train the players, questioning why Andhra shuttlers did not deliver. Bhaiyya trained at a camp and at the next junior tournament, Kashyap won, Guru reached the semis and Tarun Kona and Guru won doubles,” said Siyadath.

Gopichand then hired the Gachibowli Stadium from the Andhra Pradesh government and shifted training there. “Bhaiyya was about to leave the sport due to injuries. I joined him in April 2004 and have been with him since,” said Siyadath, who, unlike most, does not refer to Gopi as ‘Anna’ (elder brother in Telugu).

“I was being paid for part-time coaching. So I thought I’ll start playing when my shoulder gets better and will coach till then. But I got so involved in coaching that I never got time to return as a player,” said Siyadath.

Though initially he regretted at not being able to play, Siyadath quickly realised that his potential was in coaching. “I got a lot of satisfaction by helping my fellow players,” he said.

Now, Siyadath has been a coach for 15 years. In that time India have won two Olympic and seven World Championship medals among other laurels. He is often seen sitting courtside, talking to India players between points and during mid-game breaks. Siyadath is now the link man between chief national coach Gopichand and many shuttlers.

“If the players have a problem telling Gopi, they confide in me. If someone gets tired after a session, if the sessions get too long, if anyone wants an off or has a function to attend, they would be afraid of telling Gopi because ‘Bhaiyya’ sacrificed all these himself,” said Siyadath.

Many at the academy said Kidambi Srikanth shares a special relationship with Siyadath. “Srikanth mostly shares his room nowadays with Siyadath while travelling,” says 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Kashyap.

Whenever the Guntur lad wished to return home from Hyderabad, he would be scared of approaching Gopichand. Instead, Srikanth would request Siyadath to talk to him.

Siyadath was posted in Greater Noida from March 2017 to September 2018 as head coach at a PGBA centre. However, he returned to Hyderabad as the players, mainly Srikanth, needed his guidance.

“When Siyadath was in Greater Noida, all of us felt a vacuum. That is why he was called back. Srikanth wanted him back for practice,” says HS Prannoy, who reached a career-best world No. 8 last year.

The bridge

Siyadath also bridges the gaps between the players and foreign coaches. “When we are there, it is easier for them to understand the players. At times, if the foreign coaches say soemthing which the players don’t understand, they tell me which I convey to the players. I also convey to the coaches the playing style and mannerisms of players, to help them understand the player better,” said Siyadath.

Since most shuttlers have played with or against him in the early Noughties, Siyadath is known to get on with the players. “Almost 90 per cent of the players don’t call me Sir, they refer to me as ‘Bhaiyya’.”

“Everyone is different. Like Prannoy can only play well when he is aggressive. Kashyap too plays well in an aggressive mode. Srikanth has two sides, ‘jitna calm hai utna aggressive bhi hai’ (he does well both when he is calm and aggressive). Saina and Sindhu are at their best when aggressive.”

Guru Gopichand also acknowledges Siyadath’s contribution to Indian badminton. “At 19 and as a junior player, Siyadath was part of my first group of coaches and he has been with me since. He has a good equation with all the players which helps. There’s friendliness which is important. His ability to share, support, devote time has definitely been a huge contribution to Indian badminton,” said Gopichand.

Ever since he returned from Greater Noida, Siyadath has been on the road, travelling non-stop with the team for all the Super 500, 750 and 1000 tournaments on the BWF World Tour, starting with the Japan Open in September 2018.

“He is dedicated. I have seen him for years. The amount of time is he able to dedicate in training everyone is insane, constantly travelling with us on the tour as Gopi ‘anna’ has reduced his travel,” said Prannoy.

“The Indian structure is such that we don’t produce good coaches and when we do then they are not recognised. It is important to give recognition to the support staff, be it coaches or physios and keep them happy.”

Kashyap nowadays trains and coaches Saina. When he can’t travel with his wife, the former world No. 6 is happiest when told that Siyadath would be travelling with the contingent.

“He always takes care of Saina, her training and practice. I am never worried when Siyadath is travelling with her,” said Kashyap.

Managing the academy and national duty leaves Siyadath with little spare time and whatever he is left with, he prefers spending it with his family which includes his father, mother, wife and two sons, aged five and three.

“I also like riding bikes and swimming in the sea. Wherever I go, if there is a sea, I like to go there,” he said.

First Published: Apr 20, 2019 10:32 IST