P. Gopichand opens up on a difficult period without Saina Nehwal

In a book, Gopichand reveals he was hurt by Saina’s decision to quit training at his academy and instead move to Bengaluru in 2014.

Reunited: Saina Nehwal (right) returned to train under P. Gopichand in 2017.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The decision taken by Saina Nehwal to train in Bengaluru with Vimal Kumar after the World Championship in 2014 hurt P. Gopichand, the latter revealed in a book titled ‘Dreams of a Billion: India and the Olympic Games’.

Gopichand, the national head coach and an All-England champion, also wondered why Prakash Padukone, India’s first badminton superstar, “never had anything positive to say about him.”

‘Influenced by others’

In the book, Gopichand elaborates on the difficult period. It is also corroborated by P. Kashyap, Saina’s husband and a Commonwealth Games gold-medallist. “It was as if something very dear was being taken away from me. Earlier, I had literally begged [Saina] not to go. But by then she had been influenced by others and had already made up her mind. While I didn’t want to hold her back and stall her progress, I knew this was something that wasn’t beneficial for either of us,” Gopichand revealed in the book co-written by Boria Majumdar, a sports historian, and Nalin Mehta, a senior journalist.

Grapevine had it that Saina believed Gopichand was focussing more on P. V. Sindhu.

“Yes, I indeed had other players to look after and Sindhu had made serious progress in the two years between 2012 and 2014. But I had never intended to neglect Saina. Maybe I wasn’t able to convey this to her,” Gopichand wrote.

‘Mystery’

He felt Padukone, Vimal or Viren Rasquinha, Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) official and former Olympian, could have spoken to her to stop her from taking the step. “Maybe Viren or Vimal or Prakash sir could have spoken to her. I don’t know why they didn’t. In fact, they encouraged her to leave Hyderabad. It is a mystery to me why Prakash sir has never said anything positive about me while I have always looked up to him as my role model,” Gopichand wrote.

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Saina participated in the Olympics in 2016 but struggled. Carrying an injury for which she had to undergo surgery, she bowed out in the early rounds. “It was clearly the worst phase in her life. She had lost early in the Olympics and it had wasted months and years of hard work. Gopi sir wasn’t with her any more and she was soon to have surgery to get things back on track... She didn’t really know what to do,” Kashyap wrote.

‘Headstrong and proud’

Saina reunited with her childhood coach after winning the 2017 World Championship. This was important for her to do, Kashyap felt. “My wife is a perfect Haryanvi Jatni, if you know what I mean. She is just too headstrong and proud. She desperately wanted to go back to Gopi sir and say sorry. She needed him badly but she was too stubborn to admit it and open to him.”

The book is published by Harper Collins and will hit the stands on January 20.