A parting that has shaken Indian badminton

Saina Nehwal means business, having begun training in Bangalore under the watchful eyes of Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar.-K.MURALI KUMAR

The recent break between star player Saina Nehwal and her famous coach Pullela Gopi Chand has raised a host of questions regarding the state of badminton in India. By J. R. Shridharan.

Is the emergence of teenage sensation P. V. Sindhu as the future face of Indian badminton the reason for Saina Nehwal’s ‘split’ with her mentor Pullela Gopi Chand?

Has the bronze medal won by P. V. Sindhu at the World championships dampened the spirits of the Olympian?

Will Saina be uncomfortable to train with Sindhu under the same roof in Hyderabad? Has training with Gopi Chand become monotonous?

These were some unanswered questions flying thick and fast in Indian badminton circles even as the star shuttler decided to move over to the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bangalore for Asian Games training.

According to a senior Badminton Association of India (BAI) official, Saina is of the opinion that her mentor (Gopi Chand), who is also the National Coach, would be concentrating more on the rising star Sindhu.

“Doubts might have cropped up in her mind on her coach’s shift in focus. She (Saina) wants to carry a right frame of mind to the Asian Games. That is the reason she wants to train far away from Hyderabad in a new setup,” he added.

Former national champion Chetan Anand backed Saina’s decision to start all fresh for a big event like the Incheon Games. “Saina is practising for over eight years at the Gopi Chand Academy. Of late, though she is playing well, the results are not coming, especially at the World championships. Maybe she wants to train in a fresh atmosphere and add a couple of new tricks to her repertoire. New coaches (Vimal and Prakash Padukone) and new sparring partners will make her try new things. May be she was feeling rusted under Gopi.”

Chetan quickly compared badminton to the tinsel world and said comparisons by the media were obvious. “Like movie stars, celebrity players also go through a gamut of emotions. Sometimes mountains are made of molehills. The transition is quite natural.”

Pullela Gopi Chand and Saina Nehwal in better times.-V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

The former national champion said his game improved by leaps and bounds when he returned after a training stint in Europe. “When I trained in Vijayawada and Hyderabad, my game never took off. A small stint in Europe brought a sea change in me — both in perspective and approach towards the game.”

Saina’s former personal coach P. U. Bhaskar Babu, a senior SAI coach, however, felt the move was hasty. “Each coaching regime differs and it takes a minimum of six to eight weeks for a player to settle down in the new milieu.

“As the Asian Games is just few weeks away she could have avoided the move.”

The same apprehension was also expressed by former international Sanjay Sharma. “A two-week camp is too short a stint to learn new things.”

Bhaskar also felt that the change would generate several unwarranted new thoughts, which will be detrimental to the progress of the player and the team. “Your mind should be free of unproductive thoughts to gain control over concentration.” He felt that there was absolutely no control over a player’s abrupt decisions in badminton. “No one has any say — neither the parents, the administrators, nor the coaches involved. There should be some curbs.”

Former India No. 3 singles shuttler J. B. S. Vidyadhar, who played badminton in Hyderabad for over 15 years, felt the move was timely.

“Saina knows about the emerging competition from Sindhu in the days to come. She is known for her grit and she will emerge stronger under Vimal and Prakash Sir.”

He said that though the world now knew about the cold war between the guru and shishya, Saina always would give her hundred per cent. “She is a fighter both on and off the court”.

However, there is a feeling that badminton in India is not being administered in the manner it should be. A few weeks before the crucial Asian Games, leading Indian shuttlers are practising in different cities in different academies under different coaches.

Some are at the Gopi Chand Academy, while doubles specialist Jwala Gutta is training with Dronacharya Mohammad Arif at Hyderabad’s Lal Bahadur Stadium. Her partner Ashwini Ponnappa is in Bangalore, sweating it out with Saina Nehwal.