Thoroughbred-trainer thoroughly happy!

“It is an acknowledged fact that Indians will be a force to reckon with in the BWF Super Series in Dubai, in view of some of the impressive wins in the Majors during the year,” says ace coach Pullela Gopi Chand.

Pullela Gopi Chand, India’s most decorated chief national coach in badminton.   -  V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Pullela Gopi Chand has set a benchmark as a coach which is extremely difficult to emulate for anyone in any discipline. And with the big guns of Indian badminton gearing up for the year-ending mega event — the BWF Super Series in Dubai this month — featuring the top eight players as per the Super Series rankings in each category, the 44-year-old former All-England champion recaps the year that has gone by and also speaks about the prospects of India in the championship.

Question: How do you look back at 2017?

Answer: It has been an immensely satisfying year overall. I’m happy with the way things have gone, and men’s singles producing good results is a big thing for Indian badminton this year.

On the women’s side too, it has been pretty satisfying with Sindhu and Saina winning the World championship silver and bronze respectively. And, I am glad that the mixed doubles and the men’s doubles pairs have made inroads into the big league and should produce much better results next year.

What is your take on the big three from India — K. Srikanth, P. V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal?

It is a great feeling for Srikanth and Sindhu to be ranked World No. 3, which is not a joke given the intensity of competition at the highest level.

Saina also clearly served a reminder that she is a force to reckon with and is capable of producing some great results next year. The win over Sindhu in the Nagpur Senior Nationals was perhaps an answer to the critics who have raised serious questions about her abilities of late. One should remember the way she has fought career-threatening injuries and come back into the big league.

So, I feel all these things augur well for Indian badminton.

Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo, who is a specialist in singles, is an adornment to the Gopi Chand Academy.   -  V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

 

What is the big change you see in Indian badminton ahead of the BWF Super Series?

Honestly, all these results were meant to come up for all the efforts we have put in over the years since 2008. Definitely, each year is going to be better than the previous year and I must say, as a coach, I am fortunate to have such exciting players around who are willing to go that extra length and make the nation proud. So, these results are the fruition of the kind of planning, dedication and commitment everyone has shown — from the support staff in my two Academies to the panel of coaches. All of them have chipped in well.

What do you have to say about the coaching system in place?

It is good to have specialist coaches for different segments, like for doubles. We have always banked on a lot of planning, which not many outside the Academy know. To have a senior coach like Mulyo Handoyo, bringing all his experience, and complemented by the second rung of coaches like Amrish Shinde, Siddarth Jain and Pradnya Gadre is something which all of us feel proud of. They are the unsung, untiring individuals who have also played a big role in the success stories of Indian badminton.

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Are you pleased with the kind of support you are getting now?

Definitely, we have the best of coaching systems in place now and this has been possible thanks to the wonderful support from the Sports Authority of India, the Government of India and the State Governments. I must say it has never been so good on these fronts earlier.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself taking so much of interest in sports, what comes from the top has to percolate down to the lowest level!

How different will be the coming Dubai BWF Super Series (December 13 to 17) when compared to the previous editions?

It is an acknowledged fact that Indians will be a force to reckon with in view of some of the impressive wins in the Majors during the year. For sure, they are no longer push-overs.

Yes, the Dubai Super Series is going to be very demanding and tough as the cream of world badminton will be there. There is very little difference we can pinpoint in terms of strengths and weaknesses from those who have made it to the Super Series Finals.

Yes, Srikanth was out of action for two Super Series events with an injury, but is now fully fit and in the mood to give off his best. Hope he will produce the kind of form which fetched him an incredible four Super Series titles this year. It is all about getting your ryhthm quickly and he is known for that.

Sindhu has had a very good run in Hong Kong recently and is always a dangerous proposition on her day in any event. She is a class act who can make the best of the opponents look ordinary on her day. A game trier in any situation.

And, Saina (ranked No. 10 now and can only make it to Dubai if there are a couple of pull-outs) is known for her amazing fighting spirit. She is somebody who has always shown great grit and determination every time some questions were raised.

I am certainly expecting some good results from the Indians in Dubai.

Gopi Chand Academy coaches Amrish Shinde and Siddarth Jain with B. Sai Praneeth after he had won the Thailand Open. The second rung of coaching staff at the Academy is also very good.   -  V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

 

Who will be the favourites in the BWF Super Series?

Given the way the dynamics of world badminton are changing so quickly, there are no clear-cut favourites in both men’s and women’s singles. If you have noticed, there is no single player — either in the men’s or the women’s section — dominating the world scene. Given the way the standards have been raised consistently, it is never going to be easy to win even two Super Series titles.

This is why Srikanth is an exception, for the kind of form he showed in winning four titles this year, before an injury forced him to take a break from two Super Series events. I repeat anyone can beat anyone on any given day.

Your views on the future of Indian badminton?

It is going to be tough. For sure, the Indians should be aware that they are going to be watched, marked and have to really work hard to counter the changing styles, attitudes and strategies in major events.

What is the biggest challenge for you as a coach now?

That should be the scheduling for 2018 as it is crazy with 17 major events lined up, including the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and a number of Super Series events.

Players need to ensure that they are fit and raring to go despite competing in most of them.

What is your advice to the big guns when it comes to playing in tournaments?

For me as a coach, the biggest test will be to ensure that all the players are physically fit, which also means that they have to be selective in playing some of the big events. I sincerely believe that training should take precedence to competing in too many tournaments, especially in such a big year where the calendar is packed with some of the Inter-Continental championships.

What about your own personal goals as a coach?

I don’t think I have anything more to achieve except to feel great to be around when these players are making news for all the right reasons. Well, I could not have asked for more than these results. And, naturally, we should see even better days in the next few months, for so much of planning is going on to produce champions. The emphasis in coaching is not on just a few individuals, but to ensure that the second rung is equally talented and ready to face the challenges.

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